Trump’s Threat to Farmworkers

The Age of Trump is an unsettling time for undocumented farmworkers whose labor has helped make California’s “wine country” rich but are now facing threats of draconian arrests and deportations, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

There is a growing grassroots movement  for humane immigration reform. And now those forces that had organized to pressure Barack Obama over the last eight years are turning their attentions to Donald Trump.

I spoke with Jesus Guzman, the Director of the Graton Day Labor Center, one of the original dreamers who went to Washington and stood by Obama when the President signed an executive order giving temporary protections to undocumented students. The program is now in grave danger of being dropped by Trump, who has promised to be tough on the undocumented.

A rally in Washington, D.C. following the adoption of Arizona’s SB1070 in 2010. (Wikipedia)

I spoke to Guzman, an honor student at the University of California at Berkeley, at the Graton Day Labor Center, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. Some call the region wine country because the lands are rolling with colorful and scenic vineyards. But others call it farmworker country because undocumented farmworkers — who do the bulk of the work, the hardest kind of work and get paid the least for it — are the secret to the agricultural industry that is making the City of Santa Rosa and the surrounding area rich.

Dennis Bernstein: Why don’t you begin by just saying a little bit about your thoughts as we move into the age of Trump? What’s going on in your mind, in your family? How is it… just in the macro, how is it affecting your life?

Jesus Guzman: Hi Dennis, thank you for having me on again. I think my reaction, and the reaction that a lot of the workers have been sharing–and really an opportunity that we had [on January 10th] to share–was that very question, of what are we expecting in a Trump administration? And I think we’ve really had some very sobering discussions over the last few weeks since the election, about what’s possible. And there’s a real difference between what’s possible, and probable.

But, I think many of the workers–day laborers, domestic workers, farm workers, my family included–are looking at this incoming administration and realizing there’s a lot to draw on from Arizona with SB 1070, with California Prop. 187…. And that is to say that … we’ve been fighting anti-immigrant policies for a long time.

There’s some very real threats that we face, and so I think our reaction has been to draw on our experiences of the past, on those battles that we’ve had, and looking at some opportunities for us to be better organized, and better prepared to weather the storm that is to come.

DB: And let me just ask you something about the confirmation hearings [that] have begun for Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, to be the next attorney general, the highest law enforcement officer in the land. This man has never found a civil right that he loves. He has spent a lifetime persecuting black people, as a U.S. attorney in Alabama.

[Black] people would have their churches burned down, and his people would show up and be there to “investigate” one, why they burned down their own churches, and were they in a conspiracy for voter fraud. So, I’m wondering if you’re thinking about this at that level.

JG: Yeah. Absolutely. It seems very apropos that [on January 10th] the workers made their statement of intent, in terms of how we’ll be organizing and what are some of the different strategies that we’ll be deploying in the days to come. That it comes on the same day as the confirmation hearings of Senator Jeff Sessions… some of the concerns that we have about him … as attorney general, really come down in terms of enforcement of day labor centers, worker centers, immigrant rights organizations. But specifically workers centers and day laborers centers have really been targeted by anti-immigrant groups. One example, again in Arizona SB 1070, the fifth section of that bill explicitly calls out day laborers, and makes it illegal the hiring of workers on the corner, out on street corners.

Jeff Sessions supports Donald Trump at a rally. (Wikipedia)

So, we’ve, for a long time, had a target on our back by various immigrant groups. Day laborers are some of the most visible immigrants, and we can’t… as Pablo Alvarado, Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, has said, day laborers are in public, by definition. We can’t hide in the shadow. You can’t hide. We’re in the public, standing, looking for work. And so …because of that, we’re very concerned about what an Attorney General Jeff Sessions might do… to come down on workers centers, on street corners… and that type of enforcement.

DB: Now, you had a meeting [at Graton Day Labor Center on January 10th], a very important meeting. Tell us a little bit about who was at the meeting, and some of the highlights, what did you find moving?

JG: Well, the workers have been having these internal discussions since the election, to really get a sense of… well, several things. One, to have a chance to air their concerns, their fears, and what’s to come in a Trump administration, but also a chance to get our bearings, to organize. So then for today [to] have a chance to put out a statement on some different areas that the workers are wanting to mobilize and organize around and use that as an opportunity to invite allies, and community members and local elected officials to join us in those efforts.

And some of those [concerns] that the workers shared were around … whether it’s sanctuary policies locally, that make sure that there isn’t cooperation between ICE [Immigration and Custom Enforcement] and the use of any city services or resources, towards that end. And really looking, on a state level, at something like the Values Act [SB54, California Values Act] that … Kevin de León [Senate President Pro-Tempore of California] is moving. I think there are some real opportunities, both locally and statewide, to make sure that our government here, state and locally, that there’s no resources, no services that go towards the end of persecuting our own communities.

And, beyond that, as well, I think the workers are organizing through neighborhood defense committees, to move legal funds… whether it’s from foundations or from public financing, to make sure that the very tax payer money that our membership, and the immigrant community, puts into the local economy, also comes back in these funds to help defend the very people that support these city services.

So, there’s a number of different areas that we want to focus on. And we’ve put that invitation out to the rest of the community, to join us, towards those ends.

DB: And here is where California leads the way, if you will, lives on the cutting edge, sets the example, for the rest of the country. Wouldn’t you say that the movement, what happened [on January 10th], in Graton at the Day Labor Center there, is a part of a statewide movement, essentially to face off with Trump and the Washington crew, and to take them on, set the standard?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arresting suspects during a raid in 2010. (Photo from ICE)

JG: Yeah, so California for a number of years has looked very different from what Pete Wilson’s California looked like in the early 90’s. We look back at California, Prop. 187 in ‘94, and that California looked very different from the California we’ve really helped shift and shape, in these last few years. Things like the Trust Act, and recently the Truth Act, really have gone a long way to making sure that we curb the cooperation between the local law enforcement and immigration officials.

We don’t want our local law enforcement to be deputized and do the work of immigration officials. We don’t want to facilitate that in any way. And, instead, what we’re … trying to make sure is that our local law enforcement has in no way any type of cooperation, that city services don’t go… that there isn’t a sharing of information towards helping immigration officials.

And that’s a far cry from where California used to be. And California is really leading the way in the immigrants’ rights struggle, but there’s still a lot of work to do. And that’s what the workers here at the Graton Day Labor Center, and workers really across the state, are hoping to move forward.

DB: Now, there’s a lot of fear here, though, based on the declarations of Trump and the fact that we have such an extreme right-winger who will probably be confirmed as Attorney General, who continues to repeat the biggest lie of all, that [immigrants] take American’s jobs. So the battle continues.

… [Sessions] said that again [on January 10th] at the hearings, with all the smart senators, and all the intelligent people, and all their aides [present]. And there wasn’t one scintilla of opposition essentially to that big lie, that you’re taking all the jobs. Can you hit that for a moment?

JG: Dennis, I think that’s been regularly debunked. The administration continues to put forward comments, and ideas and suggestions that are pretty far on the margins. But they continue to try to bring them forward. The workers here at the labor center and right across the state, know that they contribute to the economy.

But beyond just what they contribute to the economy, we don’t want to just frame immigrants as being good for the economy. We know that immigrants are already a significant and important part of our economy, but they’re not just economically important. I mean, just on a human level, on a … basic human decency and dignity level, some of these policies that we’re concerned about from the administration really violates just basic human decency, in the way that they propose to treat people.

Beyond just the economic impact the workers have–that’s important, we should always acknowledge it, and we know that immigrants do work that is important to the state and to the country–but beyond that alone, it really is a matter of treating people with decency and dignity and fairly. So, that’s really at the heart of what we’re trying to drive forward, is that narrative of really having those values at the forefront.

DB: And … Jeff Sessions, was the former attorney general, U.S. attorney in Alabama, he’s a senator from Alabama. How have immigrants, undocumented workers done in Alabama? How have they been treated there?

JG: Well, Alabama is a state that really looked at Arizona to copycat SB 1070. And, it’s also a state where there are immigrants that are, and have been, standing up to these anti-immigrant policies. NDLON, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, has been organizing there. Other immigrants’ rights groups have been organizing there. So there is an active resistance happening in Alabama.

Some folks maybe in the country may not be aware that there is a strong immigrant community in communities across that state. It’s important to acknowledge their work. And that we’re all really trying to do what we can within our own communities and in solidarity across the country. But Alabama is a state that has some very strong anti-immigrant policies that have looked to Arizona to duplicate. And we’re in solidarity with the workers and the immigrant communities that are in Alabama, in that resistance against those policies.


Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. August 31, 2016. (Flickr Gage Skidmore)

DB: I see. Alright, and finally, again, at the meeting it was, I guess, a strategy session, a declaration of resistance. There’s a lot to be thinking about. Are you worried? Are there strategies for people to protect themselves? … We know that Obama earned the title of Deporter-in-Chief. Are there strategies in place? Are you all preparing for what could be a very, very difficult time?

JG: Yeah, so beyond just policies that can be enacted, I mean, a lot of what we’ll be doing is organizing in such a way that we’re flexible, as an organization. That we’re responsive to actions that come from the administration, and that means really having, kind of, contingency plans so that if something were to come down, we can mobilize quickly, we can respond, we can be flexible.

And starting to prepare individually. Now this isn’t to be an alarmist but when there’s a storm coming we have to do what we can to make sure that we sandbag and that we really create plans so that we’re ready for those. And what that means to a large extent is individually preparing with families about what kind of… who their attorney would be, saving the [money] … just all the measures that families would need in case of a worst case scenario. If somebody is detained, what happens? So these are really difficult questions to ask but, again, we’ve had to start taking a very sobering look at this new reality, and what’s to come.

And these are really important questions we have to ask ourselves and prepare our families for those situations. And really wanting to have all the resources available that a community can afford, to make sure that we have the maximum protection that we can, for our families.

DB: … It’s flooding where you are in Graton, in the area, in Santa Rosa. There’s all kinds of river floods. I imagine there’s been some hiring going on for people who need help?

JG: Yeah. I guess metaphorically and literally speaking. … We have actually been experiencing pretty heavy rain and storms have been coming in these last few days. And then metaphorically speaking, just the Trump administration as a storm itself. There’s a lot of preparation in trying to weather some of these hard times.

DB: I want to thank you so much, Jesus Guzman. […]

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at


24 comments for “Trump’s Threat to Farmworkers

  1. Zachary Smith
    January 20, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    In my opinion the key part of this essay was here:

    But others call it farmworker country because undocumented farmworkers — who do the bulk of the work, the hardest kind of work and get paid the least for it — are the secret to the agricultural industry that is making the City of Santa Rosa and the surrounding area rich.

    Hardest work, least pay, and the local agriculture industry gets rich. All this courtesy of helpless illegals at the total mercy of those Local Agriculturists.

    Again an opinion, but the rest of the piece is just filler.

    If the local farmers can’t pay a living wage for getting their grapes picked, let them plant something else.

    • January 23, 2017 at 12:50 am

      I’ve met many locally who say their businesses wouldn’t survive without the labor that Americans just won’t do. I asked them if they could pay the rates that Americans must have to survive in a legal economy. The answer was no. I asked them if they could afford for them to have health insurance. The answer was no. I asked them if the conditions they live in were those that they or others would work under. The answer was no. I asked what recourse they had to being treated badly or cheated. The answer was, none. I asked what happened when someone gets injured. They would not answer. I asked how they paid the social security. medicare and employment taxes for people who don’t have social security numbers, and I was told identity theft was the method, where stolen identities are rotated at six month intervals, creating problems of unreported income for legal residents and citizens. I asked what happens when people get too old to work, how they are to get social security retirement benefits. The answer was, they never can.

      The dirty secret is that many want the undocumented workers, who are smuggled in across dangerous terrain, far from legal crossing points and in concert with drugs and other contraband, to remain available to then just as they are, an illegal and exploitable sub caste.

      To be honest, I was shocked by the breadth of self righteousness in those who claim to support immigrant rights to remain in the country, but who really exploit them for their own selfish reasons.

    • caseyf5
      January 25, 2017 at 1:43 pm

      Hello Zachary Smith, Could you suggest alternatives to the growing of grapes? Each type of land has crops more suited for growing there rather than other crops that are less well suited to the climate where grapes are grown.

  2. backwardsevolution
    January 20, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    I read that Mexico allowed (probably because of NAFTA) rich U.S. agricultural companies to go into Mexico and buy up all of the peasant farmers (kind of like the consolidation of the media industry), shove them off their land, and, having nowhere else to go (as all of the farms are heavily automated now and don’t need as much labor), went North. The U.S. also started selling their corn into Mexico, somehow undercutting the price.

    Not terrorism or trying to overthrow a government (like in Syria), but almost the same thing. Forced off the land (from either explosions or undercutting), and then we get the exodus. Same with Honduras. Start fooling around in other countries, supporting coups, creating a local type of terrorism, and people start moving. Honduran exodus. Nowhere else to go? Or word goes out, and they go where they can get in?

    But the upshot is that this can’t continue on. It’s straining the education/medical/housing/wage systems to the brink. The people need to go back to their government in Mexico, perhaps end the free trade agreement that has put their country in dire straits, and go from there. Let people get their land back from the U.S. multinationals.

    The local agricultural industry gets rich off everyone’s backs. They screw both countries. If they can’t make it on their own, paying a decent wage, then maybe it’ll turn out that we’ll eventually be getting our fruit from Mexico. Which is probably how it’s going to end up. Kick those U.S. multinationals out of Mexico. Give the jobs back to the Mexicans.

    • John
      January 21, 2017 at 3:43 am

      It’s a little more complicated.
      NAFTA opened Mexico to US corn imports.
      US corn is heavily subsidized by US taxpayers.
      NAFTA prevented Mexico from subsidizing its corn.
      Mexican farmers were unable to undercut the subsidized corn from the US, so were forced to leave their land.

      Mexico, by the way, has been having massive demonstrations (sometimes over 100,000 participants, many people have been killed by police at these demonstrations already.) across the country nationwide on a daily basis since before Xmas, and these demonstrations seem to be growing. Their main demands seem to be the ouster of their President and a new Constitution. The Zapatistas have been training organizers all over Mexico for a few years now. Land reform is likely very high on their agenda.

      Interesting times…

      • backwardsevolution
        January 21, 2017 at 5:53 am

        John – thank you for your interesting comments and clarification. Do I understand this correctly: Mexico is not allowed to subsidize their corn, but the U.S. IS allowed to? If so, wow, the golden country writes another lopsided contract and wins again!

        Re the massive demonstrations – I was unaware of this. Good for them. There’s no reason why their country couldn’t be successful. I hope they do get land reform. Thank you, John.

        • backwardsevolution
          January 21, 2017 at 6:10 am

          John – one last question. Was I correct when I said that U.S. multinationals went into Mexico and bought up huge tracts of land? Because I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere. But I read a lot, and sometimes I get countries and stories mixed up. If so, that wouldn’t be fair. The U.S. taxpayers subsidize the corn going into Mexico, the Mexican farmers can’t compete, they leave their farms, and the multinationals swoop in and buy up their land? Do I have this right, John?

          • John
            January 21, 2017 at 7:57 pm

            I believe you are correct in this, I just filled in how the massive tracts of land were buyable.

            NAFTA prevents its member stated from creating new subsidies, because through the ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlements) portion, these would be “barriers to trade”. Similarly, the US ban on seine net fishing (remember the hard-won “dolphin safe tuna”?) Was seen by the ISDS tribunal as an unfair barrier to trade for Mexican tuna fisheries. Al Gore came up with the idea of lifting that ban quietly, but leaving the “dolphin safe” labels in place, so as not to upset the American public.

            It really is a very nasty thing.

          • backwardsevolution
            January 22, 2017 at 1:26 am

            John – thanks a lot for your reply.

  3. Bill Bodden
    January 20, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    A prime reason, perhaps the primary reason, for people from Central America seeking a living in the United States must surely be American policies that have helped to make life untenable for so many people.

    It seems if they do not have a legal case in some court to sue the United States for its role in debasing their nations they should have.

  4. James lake
    January 21, 2017 at 8:34 am

    This is the employers exploiting labour

    Illegal immigration enables this

    These companies are breaking the law
    They need to be fined heavily for every illegal worker they employ !!!

    In the uk companies are fined to deter them from doing this

    There is a process to enable people to come into a country legally

    The companies need to be made to pay decent wages to legal workers

    Illegal workers under cut legal workers

  5. Herman
    January 23, 2017 at 11:14 am

    “DB: And let me just ask you something about the confirmation hearings [that] have begun for Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, to be the next attorney general, the highest law enforcement officer in the land. This man has never found a civil right that he loves. He has spent a lifetime persecuting black people, as a U.S. attorney in Alabama.”

    These kind of over the top statements leads us nowhere.

    As to migrant labor, I doubt that Trump is doctrinaire enough to not recognize that the people in their fields are essential, they are as much or more than any group, hard working decent folks. The migrants are there because others are unwilling to do what they do, or do it as well.

    But the point seems to be missed that sovereignty is an essential element of nationhood, and the citizens or our country or any country have a right to decide immigration policy or any other policy within their borders. Sovereignty is threatened today as much by the United States as any other country, where borders are ignored in our pursuit of regime change, to dictating how other people should live.

    Does the United States have the right to decide who shall be allowed into the country? Yes. Does it need to recognize the rights of those who are citizens. Of course. Does it need to continue to allow the flow of people willing to work and do things no else seems to want to do? Of course.

    The issue is related here because the United States reserves the right to determine who shall be citizens and the right to refuse citizenship. It has the right to insist that employers follow the law and others who believe that immigration policies are there to be ignored.

    As to what we can do for the poor in need of work in Latin Countries, perhaps we should think more of assisting those countries in creating jobs and opportunities where they live. I doubt any migrants prefer a job in the United States if they had a reasonably comparable one in their own country.

    • caseyf5
      January 25, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      Hello Herman, That statement is over the top if it isn’t accurate. Unfortunately it is accurate and this POS will make ‘bama look like a walk in the park compared to what he will do to ‘Merica!!!!!!!!!!!

Comments are closed.