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Oregon Christmas tree industry buoyed by immigration workers bill
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GERVAIS, Ore. (AP) — It was nighttime when Pedro Lucas came home, clutching receipts showing he had paid a funeral home to have the bodies of three immigrant laborers returned to Guatemala from Oregon.
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The three, including two of Lucas' cousins, were killed when a pickup truck slammed into a van carrying them and 10 other Guatemalans home from work at a Christmas tree farm. Lucas’ father, who arrived in America just seven months ago and sent part of his earnings to his wife in the village of Chacaj, was also in the van and remains in a coma, his back broken.
"It’s unknown if he’ll walk again,” Lucas said in Spanish.
The Nov. 29 crash was a blow to Oregon’s immigrant farm workers, the driving force behind the state's $121 million Christmas tree industry, the nation's largest.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House brought some relief when it passed a bill that would loosen restrictions on hiring foreign agricultural workers and create a path to citizenship for more than 1 million farm workers estimated to be in the country illegally.
The bill’s fate in the Senate is unclear, and the White House hasn’t said if President Donald Trump would sign it. But the 260-165 vote was a rare stroke of bipartisanship on immigration. The measure also requires farmers to use E-verify, a system that checks whether someone can legally work, which farmers have fought against in the past.
The administration has expressed support for growers who say they are desperate for immigrants to fill jobs, even though Trump pinned his 2016 campaign and his domestic agenda to building a border wall with Mexico and introduced policies that make it far more difficult for immigrants to win asylum.
Both growers and Latino workers in Oregon say native-born Americans won’t take these arduous field jobs.
“The person who works in an office, he doesn’t know what it’s like to work out there, how much one suffers out there,” Lucas said as he sat at his dining room table, the funeral home documents in front of him. “In this season, here we’re warm inside, but outside, in the morning when it’s cold and there’s ice, you suffer a lot.”