HEALDSBURG, CALIF. (AP) — As firefighters tamp down the flames in Northern California, volunteers are firing up efforts to help tens of thousands of migrant workers who face uncertainty.
People like 32-year-old diana solis and her 2-year-old son Santiago.
“This time having to evacuate we were desperate, it was stressful,” she said.
Solis, an undocumented farm worker who picks grapes at local vineyards, was forced to evacuate because of the ongoing wildfire in California wine country.
“The community is worried especially about our finances. Ee haven’t been able to work. We are worried,” she said.
Her biggest worry now is how she’ll pay the rent because she’s missed several days of work.
“I don’t have a car,” she said.
Hundreds of migrant workers just like Diana showed up at a community center in the town of Healdsburg on Thursday for clothing, food and services.
“And really in the winery, vineyard, hospitality economy, they make up the majority of our labor force,” said Ariel Kelley, of Corazon Healdsburg, the group providing aid is called corazon Healdsburg. In Sonoma County alone, they say they’ve helped more than 2,500 families.
“I think there is a lot of uncertainty about when people think they’ll able to return to work, how they’ll be able to make up for lost wages,” Kelley said.
The blaze forced more than 180,000 to evacuate and destroyed roughly 140 homes.
But this fire was different than previous ones for the immigrant community here where advocates say authorities have improved communication to Spanish speakers.
“Unfortunately, people were scared two years ago, not going to the shelters or seeking help because they feared they’d be rounded up by ICE or arrested because they didn’t have the documentation. And that just wasn’t the case two years ago,” said Edwin Zuniga, a spokesman for Calfire.
Firefighters have been giving real time updates in Spanish with an emphasis on reassuring migrant workers that law enforcement is there to help them, not deport them.
“This is one of the few places we feel secure, police have told they will not cooperate with immigration authorities,” solis said.
Advocates and authorities describe the immigrant community here as the backbone of the local agricultural economy — a place where they belong and are safe.