Thursday, May 24, 2007

Insights Into A Guest Worker Program

One of many current "guest worker" programs doesn't look so attractive. It seems that payoffs and murders have crossed the border as much as the workers. Here are some excerpts from the article at

In April, Mr. Benavides’s co-worker Santiago Rafael Cruz was bound and beaten to death at the union’s office in Monterrey, in northern Mexico.

The Ohio-based union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, says the killing was a political attack after the union cleaned up corrupt practices of recruiting workers, like charging them a fee to be hired.

The recruiters charge the Mexicans hundreds of dollars, sometimes more, for the job and the temporary visa that comes with it.

Last year the United States issued about 37,100 temporary visas for agricultural workers, said Todd Huizinga, a spokesman for the United States Consulate in Monterrey. Mexico accounted for 92 percent of them.

Aside from the agreement reached in North Carolina, there is nothing to stop the recruitment abuses, experts on the guest worker program say.

“Other recruiters are still charging workers,” he added. “Everybody makes money out of these guys.”

The starting rate is typically $600, he said. That figure includes an unspecified fee that is split between the local recruiter and the agent who has been contracted to supply workers to the American employer.

Once workers return home with money from their work, it is common for the recruiter to stop by again. Workers know that a couple of hundred dollars in cash, or maybe a goat or a sheep, will get them on the list next year.

Two years ago, Juan Bonifacio González gave about $450 to a woman here everybody knew as “La Tolentina,” who promised to get him a legal guest worker visa. After months of promises she disappeared. Mr. González borrowed the money from a local moneylender and says he is still paying back his loan, which has tripled with interest.

There are no jobs in this town of 14,000, lost in the steep hills of the state of San Luis Potosí. The mayor recently invited the farm workers’ union to come and speak about legal job opportunities in North Carolina, where the federally mandated wage for agricultural guest workers is $9.02 an hour.

That seems a fortune to the mostly Nahuatl-speaking Indians here, where the average wage is less than $4 a day.

A few had worked in North Carolina and wanted to go back. Florencio Hernández Angelina spent the past three harvests there. This year he wanted help in changing employers. The grower splits her work force between legal guest workers and illegal migrants. “She gives us fewer hours,” Mr. Hernández said.

She prefers the illegals, he said, because she pays them less.

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