Dozens of Mexican workers left in limbo after Whatcom County farm walkout

Sarbanand Farms has offered to pay for their flights back, but some workers worry that if they leave, they’ll be blacklisted — and the conditions they say they endured won’t change.

More than 70 Mexican men are living in Lucy and Joaquin Suarez’s small backyard in Sumas, Whatcom County. The workers have been there for a week, camped three or four to a tent, ringed by a wood pile and a small mountain of donated water bottles.

So much food has been donated that the couple requested on Facebook that volunteers not to bring food but freezers and fridges instead. By Thursday, donors had delivered several of the appliances, as well as generators to power them.

Joaquin Suarez says not all his neighbors are as kind, however. On Monday evening, someone broke a window in a volunteer’s parked truck, apparently with a B.B. gun pellet. The homeowner next door asked Suarez to keep the campers off his property.

“People come by and say things,” Suarez said. “ ‘Get to work — that’s what you came here for.’”

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These workers, part of a 600-person crew brought from Mexico under the H-2A visa program to pick blueberries at Sarbanand Farms, are at the center of a controversy that erupted last weekend in this quiet farming community next to the Canadian border.

When fellow worker Honesto Silva Ibarra was hospitalized, these men refused to work, protesting what they say are awful conditions on the farm. Ibarra died Aug. 6 at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Representatives of the farm and their supporters in the farming community say the workers were not mistreated.

But the workers plan to camp here, a mile from where they were working a week ago, until they’re sure the whole incident won’t cause them future visa problems.

On Thursday, many of the workers said they’d been issued their final paycheck.

A spokesman for Sarbanand said the farm has already…

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