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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest 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.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid