Immigration enforcement up as local agriculture GM calls for reform
HENDERSON COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) —
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has ordered anyone in violation of immigration laws can be arrested, and the following data shows the policy being implemented.
The nearest Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office is in Atlanta. They don't have data for individual states, but have combined data for North and South Carolina and Georgia. Between Donald Trump's Inauguration Day in January through April 2016, the Atlanta ICE office arrested 4,246 people in the region. That is compared to 2,429 over the same time period last year. In 2017 66.1 percent of the people arrested had prior criminal convictions. That is down from 89.4 percent in 2016.
In the heart of apple country, Tri-Hishtil's greenhouses stand out. For one, they're growing tomatoes and watermelons. For another, the company's general manager offers a different perspective.
"For the years that I've been in the United States, I've always lived in Mills River," Tri-Hishtil's general manager Bert Lemkes said.
Lemkes was born in the Netherlands. He became a U.S. citizen after the September 11, 2001, attacks, but that's not why he came to America. He came on a visa to work.
"When you ask any of these people that are working on agriculture why are they here -- Work, build a future for my family, for all of us. We're not different," Lemkes said.
Some Henderson County apple growers told News 13 it's been harder to find labor this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 71 percent of the country's crop workers are foreign born. Lemkes said agriculture employers follow the laws, but want a legal solution to make it easier to secure labor.
"The labor force in agriculture right now is scared. Some people say that's good. They should be. Other people say who's going to do the work, then," Lemkes said.
He said when there is only enforcement without change to the immigration system, it creates fear.
"At no time are we ever out looking for people to round up. At no time are we ever out looking for folks to bring in and run through our system," Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald told News 13.
The Henderson County Sheriff vows to provide services for any person in the county regardless of status.
"There is no litmus test as to whether you get our services as our support or our compassion. We do it the same equally across the board," Sheriff McDonald said.
According to the USDA survey, half of all crop workers said they were not authorized to work in the U.S. Lemkes has been calling for reform for 30 years. Congress even called him to testify on the issue five years ago.
"We would like to get this resolved. We would like to take the fear out of the business side as well as the employee side," Lemkes told Congress in 2012.
He's still calling for a solution that he says needs to address people already in the country, trying to come now, and in the future.
"Agriculture is going to be a great supporter of finding a workable, permanent, flexible immigration system that secures our borders and secures our labor force," Lemkes said.
Lemkes said he is optimistic something will change under the current administration, but he said the immigration system may need to force action.
"It may have to break completely before we get there, but then that's what it takes. That's going to hurt. That's going to hurt a lot of people. That's gonna hurt the economy," Lemkes said.
The Henderson County Sheriff said he makes an effort to have relationships with people from all of the different communities within the county. He is also one of five sheriff's in the state to sign a memorandum of understanding with ICE.
On Wednesday, June 14, at 6 p.m., News 13 will explain what some Henderson County deputies can and cannot do.
JOIN NEWS 13 for a Your Voice, Your Future Town Hall discussion about immigration on Wednesday, June 14.