Day 5- National Farmworker Awareness Week
(Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.)
The constant stress of living in the U.S. without documents is an issue that affects millions in our country. Among them are farm and agricultural workers who are doing jobs that the majority of Americans would never dream of doing.
“The U.S. Economy is one that moves the world,” said Leonidas. “My job is a part of that. We are an important part of the agricultural economy in this country.” Leonidas first came to the U.S. in 1998 on a temporary work visa. He is currently on his third stint in the US. “Each time I crossed the border, it was legally, with a work visa. It’s just that, this last time, I’ve stayed longer.” He was supposed to leave in 2008, but plans instead on leaving this September.
In his hometown in Mexico, there are agencies that connect workers with American farmers to work during the harvest season. “My first job was in Kentucky. Since then I have worked in Washington, Texas, Tennessee, Nebraska, Louisiana and finally here in California.” It cost him a total of $350 to legally cross the border his first time over. Today, guides to cross illegally are charging up to $3,500, he says.
Lately, Leonidas has been working 10-hour days, 7 days a week, squeezing in a visit to La Sala when he can. As he spoke, he sipped tea to calm a cough that he imagines is from breathing in residual pesticides. “It’s all a sacrifice, but it’s worth it. I am working very hard, but the security of getting a check every two weeks to help support my family keeps me going. I feel pretty content living here…not really in these living conditions but in a place where there is work all year round.”
For Leonidas, the struggles and separation aren’t even the worst aspects. “For me the hardest part is not being legal and also not speaking English. If the police ever stop me, not only will I not be able to speak to them, but I don’t know what would happen [because of my legal status]. I don’t feel legal here, but I know I’ve never done anything wrong either.”
Like many farmworkers, he is waiting for some movement by the federal government regarding immigration. But he is also anxious to get back to his family, having not seen them for almost five years. “If I leave now and there is some kind of immigration reform and I’m not here, I won’t be able to take advantage,” he worries. Lives like his remain suspended in the shadows until politicians thousands of miles away from him take action.