The industry and immigration

Oregon is the nation’s leading Christmas tree producer. An estimated 6.4 million Christmas trees were harvested in Oregon in 2012.

Christmas trees cover 65,000 acres, ranging from small 5 acre U-cut hobby farms to huge 8,500 acres farms that produce up to 1 million trees annually.

Pineros or treeplanters and Christmas tree workers are considered agricultural workers and are part of a larger group of laborers that work in agriculture, including those that harvest most of our food.

It is estimated that Oregon farms employ approximately 123,000 agricultural employees annually, of which 95,000 are seasonal (77 percent). While some of the workers who I interviewed do the work year round, the majority are hired as seasonal workers.

Nationally, the majority of farmworkers are Mexican immigrant men and many of them undocumented. Farmworkers in general are vulnerable for this reason, but also because they are not protected by laws that require employers to pay overtime or provide benefits.

Despite this study which shows that the majority of people in this country support citizenship for the 11-12 million undocumented people, a comprehensive federal immigration reform bill has not passed . The federal immigration bill which had passed in the Senate last year, included a section specifically facilitating legalization of farmworkers. The Speaker of the House never put it to a vote.

Recently, President Obama gave an executive order that will provide temporary legal residence and permission to work to about 5 undocumented million people. It is estimated that of those people, 250,000 farmworkers will be eligible, based on having citizen children and being in the country since 2010. While the order is not enough, it provides relief for about half of the undocumented people in the U.S.

Here in Oregon, despite many groups organizing in favor of Measure 88 which would have allowed undocumented people in the state to obtain a drivers card to drive legally, it did not pass this past November 4th. Originally the bill had passed in the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Kitzhaber in May 2013, but a conservative group organized to put it on the ballot this year. 10 other states have passed drivers license legislation for undocumented people and this type of legislation is largely supported by local law enforcement based on issues of safety.

Learn more about Christmas tree cultivation here.

Learn more about the farmworker union in Oregon here.

Learn more about the leading organization in Oregon working for just immigration reform here.

Learn more about farmworkers nationally here.

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