Vt. migrant workers concerned about immigration crackdown

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The nationwide crackdown on undocumented immigrants is being felt in the Green Mountains.

According to ICE, 110,568 people were detained in the U.S. in 2017-- a 42 percent increase from the year before. That increase has Vermont dairy workers worried.

“Francisco was a really good guy. He was a hard worker who was responsible and reliable," dairy farm worker Salvador Ubaldo said through a translator.

Jan. 1, Salvador and Olga Ubaldo's colleague and friend Francisco Rosendo Casarrubias was picked up by the feds on his way to a Franklin County dairy farm. ICE says Border Patrol spotted the 25-year-old walking with his backpack about 10 miles from the Canadian border when they became suspicious and detained him. Casarrubias entered the country legally but overstayed his visa.

"We would like to be able to go to the store, to leave the farm but we are worried. We are afraid to leave," explained Salvador.

Arrests and detentions throughout the country are up 42 percent in the last year. Activists are sounding the alarm.

"The targeting, arrest and deportation of immigrants living and working in Vermont is getting worse. And as Congress debates the merits of different immigration proposals, Vermonters should pay attention to what's happening on the ground," said Will Lambek, with Migrant Justice.

His friends say Casarrubias was in the U.S. for just nine months but they've been working on Vermont farms for much longer. Salvador, 23, says he walked for weeks through the desert from Mexico to America when he was just 16. Olga has been in Vermont for 12 years. They have three children, all born in the United States.

"There are certain things we can't avoid. We have kids and we have to bring them to school. And that's just part of our daily life," Olga said through an interpreter. "Unfortunately, we live with a certain resignation that at any point we could be picked up like Francisco and that's just part of life here."

They understand why some struggling Americans may not be empathetic to their circumstance but say they are doing the job so many others won't.

Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts says anxious farmers often tell him the same thing.

"We rely on the migrant community to help our dairy farmers. Dairy farmers will tell you they advertise for workers and are not able to get the workforce that they need here. That's part of the issue," Tebbetts said.

Tebbetts says federal visa programs don't help. They're seasonal and don't meet the needs of the dairy industry. He wants immigration reform and an expanded visa program.

"If dairy was brought into that, that would bring a lot of clarity and probably solve a lot of these issues for a lot of folks," said Tebbetts.

Meanwhile, the Ubaldos just want to live in peace with their kids.

"We aren't here to take anything away from anybody. We aren't here to do harm to anybody," Olga said..