The New Braceros: An abusive reality behind the L.A monument
More than 200 thousand mostly Mexican people work as seasonal workers in the U.S with a visa inherited from the Bracero Program. Have we learned anything from the past?
A stunning bronze statue depicting a farmer who keeps a hoe –a masterpiece by the artist Dan Medina– was unveiled last Sunday in Los Angeles.
The monument honors the 4,5 million Mexican workers that arrived in the U.S. to work in agriculture and mining between 1942 and 1960.
By then, most Americans were overseas as soldiers in World War II, while back home the population needed to eat and fields needed to be farmed.
With a work visa and under abusive conditions, the Braceros – from the Spanish word "Brazos," arms- became the primary workforce in a country that only now has settled with them a historical debt.
However, more than 200 thousand people –approximately 94% of them from Mexico, cross every year the border with the U.S. for working as seasonal farmers under a program called H-2A visa. A work agreement that, according to the Centro de Derechos del Migrante, a binational institution to protect Mexican workers in the U.S., is similar to the Bracero Program.
Evy Peña, Communication Director of the organization, warned the temporary work visas Donald Trump's government offered to grant Mexico in exchange for the "safe country" agreement are "a recipe for labor exploitation," according to the Mexican newspaper El Proceso.
The northern estate of Monterrey (Mexico) is where more H-2A visas are granted worldwide:
"The recruitment process is a dark hole," says Peña, who points out that there are many swindlers who take advantage of the job seekers and promise non-legal or non-existent positions to workers.
Abuses and exploitation go on, even when the job offered is real.
According to the Centro de Derechos del Migrante, many farmers ignore their labor contracts or even their salary.
In some cases, employers retain their identity documents; they also reported other worrying harassment situations and unhealthy working conditions:
"Although employers must provide workers with decent housing, there are countless reports on dozens of farmers living in the same trailer without basic services," summarizes Evy.
"The system is designed for having a disposable workforce," she concludes.