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.
The latest federal immigration bill has a section specifically to facilitate legalization of farmworkers. The bill passed the Senate in April, and is currently stuck in the House. It is the hands of the Speaker of the House, Boehner to put the bill to a vote. It actually has a pretty good chance of passing. A recent study also shows that the majority of people in this country support citizenships for the 11-12 million undocumented people.
Here in Oregon, different groups are organizing to reinstate a drivers license bill that would allow undocumented people in the state to obtain a drivers card to drive legally. The bill was passed in the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Kitzhaper in May. A conservative group gathered enough signatures to create a referendum and now Oregonians will have the opportunity to vote on the law in November 2014. 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.