TIETON, Wash.—His name is Evaristo Silva, but the immigrant farm hands address him with reverence as Don Varo.
He once was one of them—a poor and desperate young man from Mexico who left behind a pregnant wife and three children and risked his life crossing the border on an illegal search for the American Dream. Now he is everything they aspire to be.
The farmworker became a farm owner, saving enough to buy a small apple orchard on the outskirts of Yakima. The illegal immigrant became a United States citizen, benefiting from the amnesty President Reagan offered to his generation of undocumented migrants.
“For me, this really was the land of opportunity,” Silva, 62, said as he walked along the tidy rows of his red delicious apple trees. “In Mexico, I would wake up on many days without knowing how I was going to eat. I may not have much here, but I am so much better off than I would have been if I had stayed.”
But now that the campesino is a ranchero, and needs illegal immigrants to pick and prune his apple orchard, he has found that they don’t need him any more to succeed in America.
Silva now wants to end illegal immigration. He wants an expanded guest worker program so that farm owners like him could still benefit from the cheap labor of Mexican workers. The foreigners could come into the U.S. to work harvests, but would then have to go home.
He feels this way despite understanding that such a radical shift—most fruit pickers are illegal immigrants—would separate fathers from their families every growing season, and guarantee that younger field hands never get the opportunities he had.
“Everything has a limit,” Silva said in Spanish, the language he’s most comfortable speaking. “People who are working and have been here a long time should be allowed to stay. But if half of Latin America keeps coming—Hondurans, Salvadorans, Mexicans—you will reach a point where we don’t all fit.”