The 200,000 Migrants that Trump Needs – by José Ignacio De Alba (En el camino)

~ This story was originally published by En el camino on February 14, 2017 ~

Photo: Greta Rico


These Sinaloan families journey to the United States on temporary work visas. The men and women join companies where they catch and process seafood. For them, the arrival of Donald Trump is less worrisome, because they know they are indispensable in the structure of the American economy. The risks they face, come not from Washington, but from Mexico, where their government has long since abandoned them.

TOPOLOBAMPO, SINALOA.- For twenty years, residents of Topolobampo have fished with the nets of others. They lost their jobs in Mexican waters when the government built a seaport on the community’s beaches. Later, pollution from the harbor led to a shortage of sea life. Since then, Topolobampans have gone to Louisiana to work, where local businesses pay minimum wage for their labor and knowledge of the sea.

“Joining the list to work there costs between 500, 1000, 2000 pesos. That is a violation of the General Labor Law… they should be hired by a recruitment agency through the Labor Department,” explains Elena Villafuerte, a member of the transnational justice branch of ProDesc, an organization that provides legal services to the fishermen.

The chain of abuse begins in Mexico. The only employment with which the fishermen can maintain their families is in Louisiana. Around 60 percent of the population of Topolobampo depends on seasonal jobs in the United States.

The H-2 work visas that the U.S. government grants allows the Topolobampans to work in the country for periods of up to nine months.

“What should be a bilateral program is a unilateral program, where the United States controls the visas. There are no policies from the Mexican government that protect the fishermen when they are hired,” says Villafuerte.

Are these jobs at risk under the Trump presidency?

“The fishermen are needed, for the businesses, it’s extremely convenient to have a system of H-2 visas. They don’t need collective contracts, and the rights of the workers are very minimal… they sleep in overcrowded rooms with up to 12 people.”

Since the presidential campaign, Donald Trump has warned that he will increase deportations of migrants. What is certain is that migrants form a fundamental link in the structure of the U.S. economy.

The migrants in the Louisiana fishing industry, for example, are everywhere. From the Sinaloan welders who build boats in the shipyards to those Mexican crews who set traps and haul nets. They are also in the seafood processing factories, where the women clean, gut, and prepare the final products. The merchandise is finally sold in big supermarket chains like Sam’s and Wal-Mart.

And if the Mexicans did not do this work, who would?

“No one. Because a family, especially a single mother, cannot support herself on what we earn there. An American family with what we make could not afford to live. That is why the Chinese do not like it, they say it is “a lot of work for little money.” We take the money to Mexico, and we can get by with it there, and that’s why we put up with the work,” says Olivia Guzmán, one of the seasonal migrants who travels from Sinaloa to Louisiana on an H-2 visa.

She works between 12 and 16 hours a day when she is in Louisiana. “They never pay us overtime,” explains Guzmán, who has traveled to the U.S. for the last 20 years.

Each year, the United States awards some 200,000 temporary work visas to Mexican laborers who do the dangerous work that U.S. citizens do not want. Many, like Olivia Guzmán, accept these exhausting tasks because the Mexican government has long since abandoned them.

-Which shrimp are better? Those from Topolobampo, or the ones from Louisiana?

-I’ve never had decent seafood there. We say ‘yuck! What is this?’ Transparent shrimp, colorless… Here, in Sinaloa, they are blue and fat, she says.

[fruitful_sep]José Ignacio De Alba is a journalist and chronicler. This story was originally published here:  The work forms part of the project En el camino, undertaken by the Red de Periodistas de a Pie with the support of the Open Society Foundations. Learn more about the project here:

About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

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