Every year, hundreds of thousands of guestworkers are recruited for seasonal jobs in agriculture, landscaping and seafood processing. In just 3 days, we met 5120 of them.
Last week, we headed from Mexico City to Monterrey — the city that processes the highest number of H-2 visas in the world and our last chance to reach workers in person before they make their way to their workplaces in the US.
We stood with the thousands of workers lined up outside the U.S. Consulate’s Centro de Atención a Solicitantes (CAS), where we equipped them with information about their rights and Contratados.org, our Yelp++ for migrant workers.
They’d travelled hours from their home states all throughout Mexico, including Oaxaca, Chiapas, Nayarit, Hidalgo and Puebla. Workers were getting ready to mow lawns in Maryland, trim golf courses in Denver, plant pine trees in Michigan, harvest tobacco in North Carolina.
The visuals were astounding. If you want to understand flagrant gender-based discrimination in guestworker programs, there’s no need to look beyond the CAS. On Tuesday, for example, we saw no more than 20 women in a line of over 3000 workers.
The use of H-2 visas is rapidly expanding. There was a 22.7% increase in the number of H-2A applications for agricultural work in the first quarter of FY2019 compared to the same period in the previous year. Last week, DHS approved an additional 30,000 H-2B visas for nonagricultural industries.
No wonder there were a lot of first timers — many didn’t know where they were heading or what they’d be doing. Others, however, had decades of experience. We spoke with a man who was heading to Texas for his 36th season!
After standing in line with workers for hours in the morning, we’d go to a hotel known to host migrant workers, where we would give Know-Your-Rights workshops, walk workers through Contratados.org and meet with members of CDM’s Migrant Defense Committee.
We took every opportunity to connect with workers. That meant holding on-the-spot workshops about health and safety, gender-based discrimination and fair housing on the street. It meant listening to workers’ experiences. Workers often opened up about the family they had to leave and the abuse that some had endured. Some were stories of struggle — stolen wages, workplace injuries, retaliation — but all of them were stories of power.
It’s hard to believe we were only there for 3 days. In total, we met 5120 workers who now know that they have rights and can use Contratados.org to alert other workers about abusive employers and recruiters. That’s 5120 workers who now know they can count on us.
We can’t wait to be back.