Working the Farm, While Trump Talks Tough on Immigration

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REUTERS ARTICLE

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Migrant farmworker Hector Manuel Morales, 20, from Mexico, who has an H2A visa, stretches before harvesting romaine lettuce in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

On an overcast spring morning, about 40 Mexican men turned out in the pre-dawn hours to board a bus for California’s Salinas Valley where they would harvest 16 acres (6.47 hectares) of lettuce over the next three days.

Migrant farmworkers with H2A visas pick up food from the kitchen at the Toro Labor Camp in Salinas, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Migrant farmworkers with H2A visas sleep on the bus from their labor camp to the fields to harvest romaine lettuce before dawn in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Hector Manuel Morales, 20, came north from Mexico to work the fields with his three cousins. He said his family worried about his journey, spooked by President Donald Trump’s talk of a crackdown on illegal immigrants. But he does not anticipate problems.

Migrant farmworkers with H2A visas put on gloves after traveling from their labor camp to the fields to harvest romaine lettuce before dawn in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Migrant farmworkers with H2A visas wash their hands after traveling from their labor camp to the fields to harvest romaine lettuce before dawn in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

While about half of U.S. crop workers are in the country illegally, Morales and the other men have H-2A visas, which allow them to work temporarily as seasonal agricultural labourers on American farms.

A migrant farmworker with an H2A visa puts on gloves after traveling from their labor camp to the fields to harvest romaine lettuce before dawn in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“We are not violating any law here in the U.S.,” he said. “We come to work.”

His co-worker Rafael Gonzalez Arredondo, 23, said listening to Trump’s statements about Mexico was “difficult, but we are going to show him that Mexicans are hard working people, that we are not what he says.”

Foreman Roberto Navarrete, 30, supervises migrant farmworkers with H2A visas as they harvest romaine lettuce in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A migrant farmworkers with an H2A visa harvests romaine lettuce in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The men came to the country through a labour brokerage company, Fresh Harvest, which brings in H-2A laborers to work on farms in need of temporary workers. This year, the company’s owner, Steve Scaroni, says he expects to bring in about 4,000 workers.

Foreman Roberto Navarrete, 30, supervises migrant farmworkers with H2A visas as they harvest romaine lettuce in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Companies like Fresh Harvest are attractive for farmers who want to employ legal workers but do not want to deal with the considerable government red tape and regulations associated with the H-2A program. Employers who bring in workers on the visas must provide them with free transportation to and from the United States as well as housing and food once they arrive. Wage minimums are set by the government and are often higher than farmers are used to paying.

Migrant farmworkers from Mexico with H2A visas Jesus Martin Ley Lugo, 27, (R) and Rogelio Garcia Parria, 20, eat during a break from harvesting romaine lettuce in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Still, Scaroni says he could find work for even more people if he had enough housing.

While use of the H-2A program has steadily increased over the past decade, it still accounts for only about 10 percent of the estimated 1.3 million farmworkers in the United States, according to government data. In 2016, the government granted 134,000 H-2A visas.

Migrant farmworkers with H2A visas harvest romaine lettuce in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Alfredo Lopez Granados, 27, from Michoacan, Mexico has come north to work on an H-2A visa five times. He misses his family back home, he says, but the decision is not difficult.

Foreman Roberto Navarrete, 30, supervises migrant farmworkers with H2A visas as they harvest romaine lettuce in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“Once you are here,” he said, “in one day you make more than you make in a week in Mexico.”

Romaine lettuces grow in a field for harvest by migrant farmworkers with H2A visas in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Migrant farmworkers with H2A visas harvest walk to a break after harvesting romaine lettuce in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. Picture taken April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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