U.S. immigration crackdown could drain fire crews

Latinos on lines: Contractors rely on immigrants

AUMSVILLE, Ore. – Rosario Franco
and many in his family have fought wildfires across the West for years.
His brother and cousin are both firefighters. His father is a
contractor for fire crews.

   Across the country, a growing number of Hispanics are taking on
the hot, dangerous and dirty work because the demand is high in season
and it usually pays better than farm work.

   Many – nobody knows how many – are undocumented, a problem Franco claims does not concern him.

   ”I think our crews are legal,” he said at his home in this
Willamette Valley town. ”My job is to do my job and that’s what I
do.”

   Nevertheless, it is clear Hispanics dominate many wildland fire crews.

   Debby Miley, executive director of the National Wildfire
Suppression Association, an umbrella organization for fire crew
contractors, said 75 percent of the contract crews in the United States
come from the Pacific Northwest.

   And Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Rod Nichols said
about 85 percent of the crews in Washington and Oregon are Hispanic.
His office administers firefighting contracts with private companies
for the two states.

   It is not the same everywhere. The South Dakota-based
International Association of Wildland Fires says the Hispanic
percentage in Northwest crews is generally considered to be well above
the national average; the Forest Service region covering California and
Hawaii is under a federal consent decree to bring its Hispanic
participation in fire crews up to about 31.5 percent, from about 10
percent now.

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