Many Migrant Farm Workers in
Calexico is often viewed as the backyard of its border neighbor, Mexicali. Migrants cross from the bustling metropolis seeking higher (despite minimum) wages. Many hold temporary work visas or green cards. One of them is Edgar, a young, energetic man in his early 30s. Another is Martin, who has been doing this for as long as Edgar has been alive.
During the growing season, Edgar and Martin are among the many farm workers residing at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shelter, a homeless men’s services facility operated by Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego. It’s the only homeless men’s shelter in Imperial County and one of just three in all of California where farm workers are able to stay.
“Why are you up so early?” Edgar asks.
I tell him that I want to experience a day in his life and share his story. Upon translation, Edgar nods in approval. Martin smiles and takes a slow sip of coffee.
“People can see how hard it is to work in the fields,” Edgar says. “And how little we make.”
For most of Imperial County’s seasonal farm workers, the commute begins the evening prior. They arrive on the Mexico side of the border by 8 or 9 p.m., waiting in line for two, sometimes three hours to cross into the U.S. They will then have three or four more hours to wait before farm contractors at buses stationed in Calexico hire and transport workers for the day. It’s an all-nighter, followed by a full day of work. Some cross back into Mexico for a few hours of sleep each afternoon, whether at home, in a motel, or in an alley. Others become accustomed instead to living on the streets of Calexico.
Farther from the border, migrants resort to horrible living conditions equal to or worse than homelessness. “Some farm workers sleep in cars, motels, garages, converted school buses and, reportedly, even chicken coops,” one article states. “Many more share apartments with strangers, sometimes dozens of them, leading to public health concerns.” Surveyors in Salinas Valley found about 40 people lodged into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home.