Vermont Dairy Workers React To Trump’s Deportation Plans

Nov 21, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to deport millions of illegal immigrants with criminal records. It’s unclear how many people fit this category — but Trump's sweeping statements are already sending shock waves into many undocumented workers' lives.

Some shared those sentiments with VPR on a recent weekend morning.

Every Sunday, an ad hoc group of friends and acquaintances meets to play a game of pick-up soccer. The teams are fluid, and there's no referee, but they play a spirited game, with players shouting in both Spanish and English.

Alfredo is decked out in neon yellow socks and cleats, and his hair is pulled back in a small bun; he plays a mean game with fast footwork. To protect his privacy, we’re only using his first name.

Alfredo walked across the Mexico-United States border 12 years ago, and has been working in Vermont dairies since then. He hasn't seen his family in more than a decade.

"It's just myself here. I have a wife and a kid. That's my family now," he says.

Alfredo says he doesn't expect Trump’s election will change things that much.

"Nothing has changed in so many years from now. That's not going to change [overnight]." — Alfredo

He says for years, some politicians have been promising to reform immigration policy to keep workers here— while the other side has been making promises to deport people in the country illegally.  

"They trying to [legalize] all the Spanish people for like 60 years, and they haven't done anything. And they've been trying to deport us since that time too," he says. "Nothing has changed in so many years from now. That's not going to change [overnight]."

Certainly undocumented immigrants have indeed been deported from Vermont and other states, including many farmworkers. The Department of Homeland Security says 2.5 million people have been deported since 2009.

And not all the dairy farm workers playing soccer here feel so defiant in facing the very real possibility of deportation.

Gregorio is also originally from Mexico, and he entered the country by walking across the border. He works 11-hour days, six days a week, on a dairy farm in Bristol. Speaking in Spanish, he says the election of Donald Trump has created a palpable climate of fear among the people working in Vermont without documentation.

"Well as it is, we're in danger of being deported because we're here illegally in this country. Under Obama, thousands of undocumented immigrants were deported," says Gregorio. "And now with this new government, we're hearing there will be even more deportations, because that's the [Trump] campaign ran on. And so we're in fear of being deported at any moment."

"We're hearing there will be even more deportations, because that's the [Trump] campaign ran on. And so we're in fear of being deported at any moment." — Gregorio

Gregorio says when he first moved to Vermont three years ago, it was peaceful. He felt comfortable leaving the farm where he lives and works to go to the grocery store or to the bank. But over the summer, he saw three of his friends picked up by immigration authorities.

"I always shopped here at Hannafords [farther from home]. Not anymore. I shop quickly in Bristol, and then go back to the farm," he says.

Gregorio recently sold a car he co-owned with a friend — he feared that merely by driving on the roads, he’d be at risk of getting pulled over and that immigration would be notified.

And he has had some interactions already that were blatantly threatening:

"One time when I was depositing money while there was a Trump campaign [rally] here in Middlebury — and a woman taunted me saying that if Trump becomes president, you’ll no longer be able to send money to Mexico."

Gregario says he doesn't understand the "hatred" that some people have projected. "We’re all humans,” he says. And he echoes a sentiment that all the dairy workers mentioned:

"If everyone is deported, my question is, who is going to work? We are here, working many hours for little money, and this is what keeps the farms running here in Vermont."

"We think he may have said those things because he wasn't in the White House yet and doesn't know how things are run. But when he thinks about it a bit, I think maybe he'll change his opinion." — Antonio

Gregorio adds that the undocumented status of many farmworkers takes away their voice. He says no American workers would accept such low wages for working 11-hour days.

Antonio, who works on another dairy in central Vermont, agrees. He didn't play soccer today, but instead kicked a ball back and forth with Alfredo's 2-year-old son.

But Antonio says it's unclear what Trump's immigration policy will really look like.

"And now that he's won the presidency, we think he may have said those things because he wasn't in the White House yet and doesn't know how things are run," says Antonio. "But when he thinks about it a bit, I think maybe he'll change his opinion."

Antonio says he's sure there are some bad people who have crossed into the United States illegally, but he doesn't think planning a mass deportation will solve that problem.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: Eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.