Michigan farmer tells Oprah the U.S. needs to build a wall, but still have immigrant workers

Oprah on "60 Minutes"

"60 Minutes" exposed the deep divisions that linger among Americans nearly a year after the presidential election. In her debut Sunday night as a "60 Minutes" special contributor, Oprah Winfrey traveled to Michigan to moderate a heated focus group. In a portion you will see only on "CBS This Morning," Winfrey spoke with one participant, Jeff VanderWerff, who said the biggest danger to America is "we've lost the ability to debate freely."

"To sit down and have intense, passionate, rational debates. And you know what? People may have feelings hurt. And we may really not like each other when we're done. But when we stop having that ability, when we lose the ability to debate ideas, the republic is over," VanderWerff told Winfrey.  

"Is there a way for us all to reach some kind of common ground where all sides can be heard and that is possible? And if we could do that at this table, why isn't it possible for Congress?" Winfrey asked.

"Well, the thing is, if -- Oprah, if I wanna sell you a bushel of apples for $20 and you only wanna pay me $10, it does me no good if I say, 'No, the price is $20,' and I walk back to my truck. And it does you no good if you say, 'Well, I'm only willing to pay $10.' At some point we have to come together and figure out how we're gonna get to $15, at some point," VanderWerff said.

"Twelve dollars," Winfrey responded.

"Fair enough!" VanderWerff said with a laugh. "And that's what bothers me about Congress is you've got people over here saying, 'No way ever.' And you've got people saying, 'No way ever.' When you have a conversations with people… you take the hot button issues off the table. You look for the common ground. You look for the common denominator. And then you work from there."


The day after our tabletop talk, we visited VanderWerff, a fourth-generation farmer, at one of his orchards outside Grand Rapids. Winfrey asked him what he thought of the discourse around the table.

"You know, I thought it was, I thought it was really good, really interesting discussion. Got to visit with a lot of people that I wouldn't normally interact with in my day-to-day life," VanderWerff said. "So it was... eye opening."

"We were talking last night about whether or not your Congress gets you, whether or not the president gets you. Do you think most of America gets what it takes to do what you do out here every day?" Winfrey asked.

"Unfortunately, I believe the vast majority of Americans really have no clue what it takes to do a lot of what we do out here. Everything you see behind us, all these apples were handpicked. Every apple in the United States is hand-harvested. There are no machines for this. So we depend on migrant labor, on skilled migrant labor to come in and do this. We have had over the years dozens of American, you know, domestic American citizens show up and say, 'Yeah, I'd like to pick apples.' Most of 'em don't make it through a day," VanderWerff said.

"So how are the immigration laws gonna affect you being able to get workers to do this?" Winfrey asked.

"Personally I think we probably oughta let more people into this country at some point. But we have to have a handle on who's coming in, when they're coming in, where they're coming from, all these things," VanderWerff said.

"So if President Trump were here right now, what would you advise him about immigration?" Winfrey asked.

"I would advise the president to continue the path to securing the border because we have to have a secure national border because we have to have a secure national border. I agree with him – " VanderWerff said.

"Does that mean building the wall?" Winfrey asked.

"I think it does mean building a wall. But it has to be a wall with as he said he said during his campaign, I think it was a big, beautiful door in it, or something to that effect," VanderWerff said. "We need immigrant workers to come into this country for a variety of skills and positions. And we allow them to come in and to fill jobs that we have here."