News / USA

Mexican Guest Workers Take Jobs Few Americans Want

Report calls for reforms to protect rights of migrant workers

About 66,000 migrants enter the United States legally as H2B Guest Workers each year.
About 66,000 migrants enter the United States legally as H2B Guest Workers each year.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Raquel Trejo Rubio has a job few Americans apparently want.

The 28-year-old Mexican migrant picks crab meat. "I came because there is no work or money in Mexico," says Trejo. "I have a daughter and I have to support her."

Guest worker

Trejo is among the 66,000 migrants who enter the United States legally as H2B Guest Workers.

H2B is a visa program that gives  workers access to minimum-wage, non-agricultural jobs that, employers say, would otherwise go unfilled because the pay is low, the employment seasonal and the work often back breaking and tedious.

Trejo's employer is G. W. Hall & Son, a major seafood supplier on Hoopers Island, a remote community on Maryland's eastern shore.  For eight hours a day, five or six days a week Trejo works at a long table where the hard-shelled crabs, caught that morning and then steamed, are piled high and ready for her to pick apart.   

She makes a minimum hourly wage of $7.25, sometimes more if she picks quickly.  Risking injury Trejo works at a rapid pace tossing empty shells into large waste cans. The job is not difficult. It's a matter of practice.

"What's difficult is to be separated from my family and 10-year-old daughter for much of the year," she says.

Raquel Trejo Rubio is in her fourth season as a Maryland crab picker with G.W. Hall & Son.
Raquel Trejo Rubio is in her fourth season as a Maryland crab picker with G.W. Hall & Son.

Jobs Americans don't want

G.W. Hall & Son once employed American workers. No more. The company says seasonal tedious jobs don't appeal to Americans anymore.

So owner Brian Hall says he does everything he can to keep his Mexican workers happy. "We provide transportation to and from Mexico. They've got a house, a satellite TV, air conditioning.  Anything they want, we get it for them."

Ninety percent of Hall's business is picking crab meat.  Without the women, he says, "I'm out of business and every other plant [around here] is too." Crab is a $30 million a year industry in Maryland.

Trejo rents the three-bedroom ranch house she shares with co-workers from G.W. Hall & Son.

It is the money that keeps her here for the season, which can last between eight and nine months.  "In Mexico, I earned 1,400 pesos  [$110] every two weeks. Here I can earn that in three days."

Blanca Aguilar, Raquel Trejo and Sandra Garcia [left to right] relax after an eight hour day that begins as early as 4:30am.
Blanca Aguilar, Raquel Trejo and Sandra Garcia [left to right] relax after an eight hour day that begins as early as 4:30am.

Exploited workers

Despite that, a new report finds that crab workers like Trejo are isolated and exploited by their employers. The report, based on interviews with 40 former crab pickers, was published by the American University Washington College of Law and the Centro de los Derechos Del Migrante, or Center for Migrant Rights.

Crab picker Elisa Martinez Tovar told her story at a news conference that coincided with the report's release. "When we don't know this country, we imagine that everything is beautiful, but once we get here, we see in truth is that it's another reality."

Martinez says she suffered a string of abuses, from a dishonest recruiter and rat-infested living conditions to not enough work.

"When we wanted to change jobs my boss said,  You came to work for me.  You can't go elsewhere.  I paid 1,000 dollars for you and you are obligated to stay.  And if you go, I'll report you to immigration and you won't be able to return."

G.W. Hall & Son owner Brian Hall receives up to 700 bushels of crabs daily at his Maryland processing plant.
G.W. Hall & Son owner Brian Hall receives up to 700 bushels of crabs daily at his Maryland processing plant.

Troubling allegations

Those allegations trouble Brian Hall at G.W. Hall & Son Seafood.

"Anybody who treated their girls that badly should be kicked out of the [H2B] program. It makes me look bad and I don't like that."

Bill Sieling, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association also disputes the claims in the report.

"We had no inkling that such a report was being worked on," he says. "And, many of the things in there are not accurate. Certainly by our standards and by present day conditions most of the report does not stand up to the conditions that they are today."

Lead author Jayesh Rathod, an assistant professor of law at American University says the report seeks to give the migrant perspective.  It calls for reforms in recruitment in Mexico and improved working conditions in the United States - not for the elimination of a popular program.

"The women told us the program is critical to their livelihoods." Rathod says. "It's made a huge difference in the lives and education of their children. They don't want the program to go away. They just want to make sure that they have flexibility and rights to make changes of employers and to earn enough under the program without going back to Mexico remaining in debt."

That's what Trejo wants too. She's already earned enough to open a small shop in Mexico, but until it can support her family and help build a better future for her daughter, she will have to continue returning to her job shelling crabs in America.

You May Like

Photogallery Ukraine: Russian Forces Tightening Grip on East

And new United Nations report documents human rights abuses committed by both sides in conflict More

Locust Swarms Fill Antananarivo Skies

FAO-led control efforts halted plague More

South Africa’s Plan to Move Rhinos May Not Stop Poaching

Experts say international coordination needed to follow the money trail and bring down rhino horn kingpins More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid