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Sakuma Praises Obama's Immigration Move But Says It Doesn't Solve His Farm's Labor Shortage

Brett Davis
Washington Farm Bureau
Steve Sakuma, one of the owners of Sakuma Brothers Farms

Steve Sakuma, one of the owners of Sakuma Brothers Farms, a Skagit Valley berry farm that’s been in the spotlight for a labor dispute, calls President Obama’s announcement on immigration a "good first step." But he says it doesn’t solve a labor shortage the farm has faced.

In the past, Sakuma has called the current immigration system broken, saying it’s not good to have so many workers living in the shadows and it limits their upward mobility. For that reason, Sakuma praised the president’s move to protect some workers from deportation and let them work here legally.

"It was a positive step toward recognizing and publicly putting it out there that illegal immigrants are out there," Sakuma said. "Deporting them is not an option."

But he says his farm is still facing a labor shortage and will likely apply for some guest workers for next year under the H-2A program. His farm backed off of that this year after protests and a court challenge.

H-2A Program's Growth

Farmworker activist Rosalinda Guillen, who heads the Bellingham-based group Community to Community Development, says she hoped Obama would take steps to protect more farmworkers who are already here and reduce the use of guest workers.

"The numbers of guest workers coming into Washington state has increased tremendously the last few years," Guillen said.

The number of H-2A workers certified for Washington state in fiscal year 2014, which ended Sept. 30, was 9,077. That's up 45 percent from fiscal year 2013 and more than twice the number in fiscal year 2012.

Sakuma and Guillen both say it’s still too early to know how the change will affect farms and farmworkers in Washington state. And they both say lawmakers should do more to fix the immigration system. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.