May 27, 2008
IRAPUATO, Mexico (AP) — Antonio Martinez used to pay smugglers thousands of dollars each year to sneak him into the United States to manage farm crews. Now, the work comes to him.
Supervising lettuce pickers in central Mexico, Martinez earns just half of the $1,100 a week he made in the U.S. But the job has its advantages, including working without fear of immigration raids.
Martinez, now a legal employee of U.S.-owned VegPacker de Mexico, is exactly the kind of worker more American farm companies are seeking. Many have moved their fields to Mexico, where they can find qualified people, often with U.S. experience, who can’t be deported.
“Because I never moved my family to the U.S., I was always alone there,” said Martinez, 45, who could never get a work permit, even after 16 years in agriculture in California and Arizona. “When I got the opportunity to be close to my family, doing similar work, I didn’t even have to think about it.”
American companies now farm more than 45,000 acres of land in three Mexican states, employing about 11,000 people, a 2007 survey by the U.S. farm group Western Growers shows.