Part of the Broetje Orchards community of family homes and apartments.
Normally reserved and quiet spoken, Ralph Broetje is uncharacteristically vocal on the topic of U.S. immigration policy. Labor problems are the biggest cloud hanging over the industry, says the Prescott, Washington, orchardists, who employs 2,000 people at the season’s peak.
"I encourage people to speak out on that issue loud and clear to the political people. We desperately need immigration reform, and it needs to happen quickly."
He’s dismayed by Congress’s enforcement-only approach with plans to build walls and fences to keep people out. "It will devastate the industry if we don’t have some kind of path to legal status for families that have been working here for five, ten, or fifteen years and serving the industry," he said. "We need to work together in striving to get something passed next year."
He was particularly upset that Congress did not pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have given undocumented students greater access to college and allowed young immigrants of good character to apply for legal residency so they could work and participate in their communities. Currently, if children are brought into the country illegally, there is no way for them to become legal residents.
"How can anybody be against the DREAM Act? That makes me a little angry," he said. "Why would you want to deny that to decent, hard-working people? It’s not right."
Broetje Orchards has a community of 140 family homes and apartments at the orchard and recently completed 18 three-bedroomed townhouses that can be used for guest workers should he decide to recruit through the federal H-2A program. However, Broetje feels that the H-2A program is archaic and expensive, and employing single men who leave their families in Mexico goes against his philosophy of keeping families together.
"We really get involved with the whole family, and H-2A divides the family," he said. "It’s hard to switch course and use the men only for the few weeks you need them, and send them back."
Broetje recently bought property at Pasco, about 20 miles away from the Prescott orchard, where he plans to build up to 250 affordable homes for workers and their families to purchase over the next five or six years.