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lunes, noviembre 24, 2008

Give These Workers Their Money And Give It To Them Now

This is absolutely infuriating. The New York Times reports on the struggle of former Mexican farm workers, some in the 80's and 90's, to obtain refunds from the Mexican Government of 10% of their wages that were withheld when they worked in the US under the bracero program:
FRESNO, Calif. — Here comes Abraham Franco now, 86 years old, skin leathery and bronzed from decades of work in the fields, slowly bending his small but sturdy frame into a metal chair at a faux wood office table at the Mexican Consulate here.

He still could not quite believe the news: Decades after working as a bracero, as thousands of Mexican guest farm workers were called in a program from 1942 to 1964, the Mexican government had recently agreed to a one-time payment, $3,500, of long overdue withheld wages.

The braceros are fading fast, some pushing or over 90, and are ever reliant on family and friends to get by.
Join me in the lettuce fields with Sr. Franco.

This is about money these workers earned and that the Mexican Government took.

This is about the magnificent sum of $3,500. That is not the actual amount withheld from any one of the workers, it's a settlement of their claims. Is it what they contributed, or is it far less? And the workers, this is the part that has my hair on fire, have to prove that they were working in the US 60 years ago to collect a single peso of the money that was taken from their wages:
Scholars believe that more than 2.5 million people were braceros, which is Spanish for “strong arms,” at a time when “guest worker program” did not set off as fierce a debate as today.

Most worked three to six months a year in agriculture, the bulk of them in California, with a smaller number in railroads. The program began because of farm labor shortages brought on by the war, and it continued afterward at the urging of growers until 1964.

The Mexican government took 10 percent of the wages paid to braceros, supposedly holding it until their eventual return to Mexico.

In 2001, a group of braceros from the World War II era filed a federal lawsuit against Mexico to recoup their money. Four years later, facing pressure from former braceros in Mexico and their advocates, the government announced a reparation program, but required braceros in the United States to travel to Mexico to register, a difficult journey for the elderly and infirm.

The settlement, which a federal judge will consider granting final approval in February, prodded Mexico to apply its program to braceros in both countries, eliminating the travel requirement.
But despite the small size of these refunds, many of the workers cannot produce the paperwork that will satisfy Mexico that they are entitled to these funds. Did you get that? Mexico is holding all of these funds that it "withheld" from workers' pay. Does not the Mexican Government know whose wages it was receiving and holding? Do they not bother to keep records about whose money they are "withholding"?

Don't ask. The present program requires workers to prove they were in the US, did the work, were part of the program, and that funds were withheld from their wages. Period. If a worker cannot prove it, the result is no refund. Forget that you worked for years as a farm worker. This, they are told, is all about proof.

To nobody's suprise, the proof is a very, very tall order:
Leonel Flores, an advocate for farm workers here, said he doubted that very many former braceros still had the documents to meet the standards of proof. In addition, he said, their documents are rife with erroneous dates and spellings of names, the handiwork of braceros who hardly went to school, if it all, and government bureaucrats on both sides of the border.

“This says you were born in 1922, and this says you were born in 1921,” Mr. Flores told Mr. Ortiz, holding aloft his Mexican birth certificate and bracero identification card at a recent meeting of braceros. “That’s an error that can get you rejected.”

Later, in an interview, Mr. Ortiz offered still another document, his United States naturalization certificate, with a birth date indicating 1923.

“I feel bad because these are mistakes I did not make,” he said. So when was he born?

“1923, I am pretty sure,” he replied.

Mr. Gonzalez had kept his papers, but they were lost in a home burglary several years ago, a fate many braceros have suffered because criminals know they are easy prey.

Still, he said, “Yes, I still have some, but I have to keep looking.”

Mr. Flores said local lawyers were documenting the problems in an effort to persuade Mexican authorities to be more flexible.
This is simply ridiculous. It is shameful. And if these facts aren't enough, and you want to get the entire, human side of this situation, the Times has a remarkable photo essay of these workers. Go ahead. Look at these workers who toiled so that people in the US could eat. Look at these workers who worked so hard to sustain themselves and their families. Look into the faces of workers who didn't receive a fair shake. Look at the faces of these workers who sweated in the fields for long hours at horrendous wages long before Cesar Chavez started the UFW.

How, I want to understand, can there be hundreds of billions for Wall Street and the auto industry, and these workers have to beg for a refund of wages withheld from them for 60 years. They're not asking for a handout. They're asking to have withholding refunded. That was the deal, wasn't it?

And, you might want to do this calculation. If the funds were held for 40 years, and they produced interest at a rate of only 2.5% per annum, far, far less than legal interest, the $3,500 refund represents a withholding of only $1,750 40 years ago. Where is the real money and the real interest on it? And where is the accounting of what these workers paid in?

These workers must receive their refunds. It is, after all, their wages. They must be paid. And they must be paid now. The insult of keeping this money from these workers and of erecting unrealistic barriers to their receiving it is gigantic.

The workers must be paid. And they must be paid without further ado.

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2 Comments:

OpenID Kate said...

Great post.

Sadly, this injustice happens to migrant farm workers in Canada as well. The Jamaican government holds back 20% of the money that their citizens have laboured to earn. Infuriating indeed.

6:23 p.m.  
Blogger cylinda said...

My dad and I are currently trying to recoup the money my grandfather earned long ago. My grandmother could really use it right now. Wow, they have made the process extremely daunting! I am not sure who keeps records for 60 years, but my grandfather did not, so I trying to find out if it is possible to retrieve these records somehow. This seems like it will be the biggest obstacle in getting this small (in comparison to what is really owed to them) but significant amount of money.

11:38 a.m.  

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