Most Mexican migrants to the United States settle in the border states, such as California and Arizona. But some go farther north, and end up in the state of Washington, in the north-west corner of the continuous 48 American states. There they satisfy the demand for cheap labour on livestock ranches and farms growing fruit. On many of the farms almost all of the workers are Mexicans, some legal residents of the US, and others not.
The agrarian sector is one of the largest sources of work in the state of Washington. During the harvest season for cherries and grapes, the orchards and vineyards alone need more than 125,000 seasonal laborers, and employ everyone they can get, with or without residence papers. At most times of the year, 5% of the work force will be without residence permits; in the harvest season that rises to 70%. Formally, it is illegal to hire workers without documents, but everyone knows that without illegal guest workers the economy would founder.
Mexicans are by far the largest group of immigrants to the United States. In 2010 there were around 13 million Mexicans living in the US. Adding in the second and third generations, this number rises to 30 million. Mexicans are also the largest group among the 1.5 million who cross the southern border illegally every year. Most remain in the south of the US, with its warm climate and pronounced Latin culture. The cold climate in the north is an obstacle for many migrants. Still, Latinos represent 11.3 % of the population of Washington state.
To a large extent the economy of the United States is kept running by the labor of migrants. That dependence is certainly also true for the state of Washington. The organization OneAmerica, which champions equal rights for migrants, has calculated that in Washington state alone, the departure of all migrants would leave 70,000 jobs unfilled, and economic activity would decline by 14.5 billion dollars.
This story is part of Via Panam, Kadir van Lohuizen’s project about migration in the Americas.