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President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants by federal agents is scaring some of those families back to Mexico, according to knowledgable sources in the Pueblo community.

According to news reports, federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents were told in a February memorandum to detain any undocumented person they encountered — not just those with a criminal history or those in jails, the previous policy.

That ramped-up enforcement has reportedly led to 14 people in the Pueblo area being arrested by ICE agents this year.

One of those people — 49-year-old Benito Rubio — died in a Denver hospital from undetermined causes while in federal custody after being arrested Feb. 28 in Pueblo.

Sources report that some undocumented families have left the area for Mexico rather than run the risk of having a parent arrested or even sentenced to prison for immigration violations.

Rubio, for example, was facing felony charges from repeat immigration violations and was likely to be sentenced to prison before being deported, according to his family.

The danger of arrest is also being felt in the number of longtime local people who offer to pick fruits and vegetables in Southern Colorado.

Michael Hirakata, whose family has grown cantaloupe, watermelon and pumpkins in the Rocky Ford area since 1927, said he has applied for 60 federal H2A worker visas this year. The documents allow workers to stay here from July to October and work on Hirakata’s farm.

“Fewer and fewer local people have been taking part in the (farm) labor pool anymore,” Hirakata said Friday.

Growers weren’t always certain of those workers’ immigration status.

A member of the Colorado Agriculture Commission, Hirakata said there is a shortage of approved H2A workers across the state.

“I know growers in this area have also changed their crops in response,” he said. “You don’t see as many onions being grown anymore because that’s a crop that requires field workers.”

The search for H2A workers has grown more intense in the past year.

The Colorado Department of Labor reports that in the 2016 growing season, 234 growers filed applications to obtain H2A workers. This year, that number has grown to 316.

“That may be an indication the supply of local (farm workers) is dwindling,” a spokesman said.

proper@chieftain.com



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