The cherry harvest in parts of Washington state is under threat after problems with a US government computer left hundreds of Mexican farm workers stranded on the US border for two weeks, unable to obtain visas.
A State Department database crashed on 9 June, US Customs and Border Protection has been able to process fewer than half the applications it has received for temporary farm employment, Reuters reports.
Some 1,250 workers who had previously obtained visas have had new permits granted, but 1,500 first-time applicants cannot yet get the documents because of the computer glitch, according to State Department spokeswoman Julia Straker. These include more than 550 people sponsored by the Washington Farm Labour Association, a non-profit group that represents growers. This
The group’s programme manager Roxana Macias said this had left many stranded in Tijuana unable to reach farms in Washington, the biggest producer of sweet cherries in the US.
“Cherries are timely; if you don’t get them in the 10- to 14-day window when they’re ready to harvest they come mush,” Macias said.
The association’s director, Dan Fazio, said the losses could extend to the state’s blueberry harvest, which many of the workers move on to once the cherry season is over.
“We have a lot of cherries that are ruined and it looks like a lot of blueberries are going to be lost,” Fazio said.
The association paid US$1,500 per worker for the visas, and has spent more than US$100,000 to provide housing and food for the workers in Mexico, legal services and other efforts to get the workers in Tijuana to the crops in Washington, Fazio said.
“I don’t know if this damages the entire Washington sweet cherry crop,” he said. “But I know that I have growers whose entire crop is wiped out.”