Closure of Migrant Camps Forces Seasonal Workers to Make Tough Choice

Rowan Moore Gerety, California Report, December 27, 2013

The fields around Watsonville produce more than half a billion dollars in berries every year. After the raspberry vines have been cut back for winter and the strawberry fields plowed under, some farmworkers head back to Mexico for a few months. At the state-run Buena Vista Migrant Center, the end of the growing season means it’s time for 104 families to move out, including those who don’t want to travel south of the border. {snip}

{snip} Buena Vista is one of 24 state-run camps around California, built in the 1970s to improve living conditions for migrant workers. For farmworkers living on wages of about $350 a week, it’s a pretty good deal: rent is less than $400 a month, and the camp offers free daycare. But there’s a catch: to live there, you have to move at least 50 miles away during the winter.

Rogelio Fernandez, who is headed to Michoacán for the winter, has been coming to California to pick strawberries for 38 years. He followed in the footsteps of the men in his family. “My grandfather was a bracero, my father was a bracero,” he said.

During the winter, tenants have to leave their tan, concrete duplexes clean and empty, the same way they got them. Fernandez prepares the garden by cutting down the last of the tall corn stalks that border his house. {snip}


According to Ann Lopez, director of the non-profit Center for Farmworker Families, “We’ve always been a state that welcomes people when we need their labor, but then once the season is over, we don’t need their labor, we want ‘em outta here.”

She said there’s no doubt that people in Buena Vista have it better than farmworkers who don’t live in subsidized housing. “But there’s a tremendously high cost: they don’t have a permanent home and they can’t stay where they want to be.”

Lopez is working to repeal the state regulation that keeps the migrant camps closed during the winter. That, she says, would help more students follow the path of Cristian’s older sister, Yasmin: she’s a junior studying psychology at Cal State Sacramento.

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  • Puggg

    Isn’t that supposed to be the point of guest workers? They stay here as long as they’re needed (supposedly needed), then when they’re no longer needed for the season, they go home.

    • Erasmus

      That cheap migrant labor sure isn’t cheap. At least not for the taxpayers it isn’t.

      • Irishgirl

        Rather than tax us to pay for their subsidized housing, wouldn’t it make more sense to just pay Americans a decent wage to do the same work?

        And one more thing – they’re complaining that they have to leave “their” homes for the winter. But the homes are subsidized, so they really aren’t “their” homes at all.

  • Max Krakah

    Europe mechanized it’s agriculture decades ago. The US could do the same, we have no need for this.

    • borogirl54

      But aren’t some fruits and vegetables too delicate to use mechanized pickers? Besides it is probably cheaper to hire migrants than to pay for the machines to pick the fruits or vegetables.

      • Max Krakah

        As far as I understand it, Europe has mechanized everything related to planting and harvesting. You would be surprised with what they have come up with, we are talking about white people after all.

  • bigone4u

    My family were migrant farm workers in the 1930s after we lost our family land in the depression. Thus, I understand the plight of the migrant. But these Mexicans have it so much better here than in Mexico and so much better than my family had it. Thus, the issue here is just one more example of Mexicans wanting everything their way. On principle, the state should resist changing the law, but Governor Moonbeam will probably cave.

  • Marc Zuckurburg

    I advocate comprehensive immigration reform.

    Comprehensive immigration reform will raise wages and salaries, strengthen national security, prevent terrorism, enhance our domestic crime-fighting ability, ensure that we continue to encourage the best and brightest to partake of the American dream, enhance our competitiveness and our ability to innovate, and make America more prosperous.

    Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work fixing our broken immigration system.

    Make my immigration reform comprehensive, please!

    • Puggg

      Make my suicide cult apocalyptic, please!

  • mobilebay

    Hey, just put ’em up at the local Hilton. It’s expected now as a “right.”

  • Spartacus

    Remember the unseen price of hiring dark-skins :

    • Alexandra1973

      I remember sitting in Spanish class in high school and listening to the teacher tell us about Mexico. That’s where I heard that drivers actually aim for pedestrians.

  • I respect the work ethic of many (Mexican) migrant workers, but I believe [American] persons that collect welfare should make a contribution towards their own maintenance. I don’t think it’s outrageous for persons to lift a finger to support themselves.

    • IstvanIN

      Let Mexican work in Mexico and improve that [email protected]

    • kris

      Work ethic? You mean the ones that clean houses, but don’t know how to clean? The construction workers that cut corners, or cut the hole in the tile for the shower spigot 3 feet from the floor? The sub contractor who used a drill through a beam that had the hot wiring running through it, catching the whole attic on fire? Great work ethic. They don’t have a “work ethic”. They work, they eat. Same as everyone else. They are just way worse at their jobs, but try hiring a white housekeeper. They don’t exist.

  • IstvanIN

    When I was a kid back in the 60s Puerto Ricans used to do the seasonal filed work, picking tomatoes, peppers, peaches, etc.. There would be the occasional protests over farmers putting them up in old chicken coops. Eventually the Puerto Ricans stayed. Now, despite NJ having lost a huge percentage of its farm land, we are swamped with Mexicans. They do all the lawn work, build the ticky-tacky McMansions, wash dishes in restaurants. They breed like roaches. They get tons of welfare benefits for their anchor citizen children. We pay for their medical treatment. It breaks my heart. Our leaders just surrendered.

    Poor King Leopold III of Belgium, faced with an impossible situation, was eventually forced to abdicate. Regardless of your opinion of his actions, he was faced with an overwhelming and sudden invasion by a superior force. Our leaders, on the other hand, could have turned back this invasion by peasants at any point up until the turn of the century. We had the superior forces, the invasion was not sudden, but gradual, yet our leaders capitulated. And unlike King Leopold, who decided to stay with his troops, our leaders, who are truly treasonous, live better than any king could imagine. Do the Bushes and Clintons and others suffer the same fate as us? No. Our leaders are evil men and women who have been richly rewarded for their treason and treachery. We can only hope they meet the same fate as they visited upon Saddam Hussein.

    • borogirl54

      The difference is that Puerto Ricans are US citizens and are paid the same rate as other US citizens. Most Mexicans are illegal immigrants that will take whatever they can get to send home money to their families in Mexico. They have made it harder for teenagers to get their first jobs because they were the ones that did dishwashing in restaurants and worked in the fast food places. Not anymore.

      • PvtCharlieSlate

        One of the biggest mistakes this country has ever made was the war with Spain in 1898. It resulted in lots of easily won, short-lived bragging but nothing worthwhile in the long run. Try to imagine what the past century or so would have been like if the US had never been involved with Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.

        • Pro_Whitey

          So true! Off the top of my head, I think the Japs never would have attacked Pearl Harbor had the U.S. not controlled the Philippines as a territory, because the Philippines are smack dab between Japan and the oil in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. At least Roosevelt would have had to come up with a different justification for getting us into the war, as he wanted.

      • Alexandra1973

        Maybe it’s time to give Puerto Rico the boot…?

    • Pro_Whitey

      Please do not call anchor babies citizens. Birthright citizenship involves two conditions, birth in the U.S. and being subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress has dropped the ball on fleshing out what it means to be subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S., but Senators describing that clause before ratification indicated that it means that no other country has claims on the baby’s loyalties. I understand that anyone born of a Mexican parent is considered a Mexican citizen under Mexican law, so right there we have a conflicting loyalty for anyone whose parents are Mexican. I bet the same goes for many other countries. Such people are not citizens by birth, or we have to ignore a clause in the constitution. The legally proper result is that they are not citizens by birth. Are you right that they are treated as citizens? Yes, but that does not make it right.

  • cecilhenry

    Go back HOME to Mexico.. Period…..