As Fires Move On, Wine Country Wonders Whether Immigrants Will, Too

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[October 17, 2017] SEBASTOPOL, Calif. — The lush vineyards that dot the hillsides and valleys here largely survived the fires that leveled neighborhood after neighborhood to the east.

Crushed cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other grapes in tanks are now fermenting into wines that have earned California a prestigious place among global producers.

But the wine industry and the lodging, restaurant and construction sectors that help make this bucolic region a draw for millions of visitors each year are now bracing for a different crisis: the potential loss of many members of their immigrant work force.

Some 5,700 houses and structures have been destroyed and many more damaged by the blazes that barreled through Northern California last week. About 100,000 people were displaced, temporarily or permanently.

It is still too early to know how many of them were immigrants, who are in the most precarious position of any group. Because many of them are in the country illegally, they are ineligible for most disaster aid, raising concerns that those without places to live will move to other regions where housing is more plentiful and cheaper. 

“To function, we have to be able to retain the immigrant workers in the area,” said Cameron Mauritson, who grows grapes on 350 acres in Sonoma County for 60 wineries. Losing them, he said, would be “catastrophic to our economy.”

To read the entire article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/17/us/california-fires-immigrants.html

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