BOARDMAN, Ore. (AP) — On the road to Threemile Canyon Farms, Achut Shiwakoti stared out at the neat rows of corn and fields of fresh mint, his father anxiously nudging him to translate as their new workplace came into view.
There is little the International Rescue Committee, an Idaho-based refugee agency, can do to prepare its Third World clients for the vastness of the operation that is Oregon's largest dairy. But the 93,000-acre complex has provided steady jobs in a recession that makes it difficult for even highly educated refugees fluent in English to get hired.
Conversely, with the immigration status of industrial farmworkers across the nation coming into sharper focus, legal political refugees offer another option for employers.
Shiwakoti, 21, started the day with tearful good-byes to his mother and sister in the parking lot of their Boise apartment complex. He was still grappling with where his journey from South Asia to America had now taken him.
"It's very sad, you know, it's very hard to leave each other," Shiwakoti said.
His family fled Bhutan under threat of death, left the Nepalese refugee camp for a better life in America, and traded their new life in Arizona for the cheaper cost of living in Idaho.
And here, in rural northeastern Oregon, the refugee group had found employment for Shiwakoti, his dad and six other refugees at the giant dairy in the Columbia River Basin. He would take his next steps into the American work force wearing a pair of child size 6 rubber boots purchased at a Wal-Mart stop in Pendleton, Ore.
Shiwakoti and his father, 48-year-old Bhola Shiwakoti, went to the Boise office of the International Rescue Committee seeking help several weeks ago — but they didn't anticipate this.
"Boise just started bleeding jobs," said Lana Whiteford, a hiring specialist for International Rescue. "Hotels and restaurants just didn't need us anymore."
A livestock manager at Threemile Canyon Farms heard about the refugees' employment plight on public radio two years ago and contacted Whiteford. Since January 2009, she has helped about 45 refugees get jobs at Threemile Canyon and find affordable housing in nearby Boardman.
The dairy with a predominantly Hispanic work force now employees refugees who escaped political and ethnic persecution in Burma, Sudanese who fled genocide, Iraqis who were forced to leave their war-torn country for both religious and political reasons and Somalis who left their country because of ongoing strife and bloodshed.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.