From IVPressOnline.com, Chelcy Adami, 3 Dec 2011.
MEXICALI — Thousands of farmworkers flood into the pedestrian lanes at the Calexico downtown Port of Entry each morning during farming season.
Working hard labor in cold, wet fields is a difficult job in itself. It doesn’t get any easier when long border-crossing wait times compounded by intermittent police presence cause the situation to become stressful and at times violent.
Farmworkers will often start to line up around 1:30 a.m. or 2 a.m., and they say two to three hours is the average wait time for them.
Those that get through sooner have a better chance of working that day, farmworker Eunnio Mendez said. “Sometimes we don’t work, because they’re (employers) already gone. Maybe I will today. Maybe not.”
The 53-year-old has been working in the fields for around 30 years.
“You have to come really early so you can make it,” he said. “The later it gets, the more angry people can be.”
Other farmworkers as well as people returning from a night in Mexicali often walk ahead to the front of the line as farmworkers waiting in line shout for them to follow the line’s order.
The situation gets heated at times as tired people in line begin to talk back and physically block those trying to walk to the front.
One frustrated farmworker Friday morning moved a piece of loose shop furniture to create a haphazard barricade to line jumpers.
Mendez said it’s fine for older people to go to the front of the line but not for others who just don’t want to wait.
Sometimes a police officer is present, but not always. Fights between frustrated farmworkers or with people who are returning from drinking in Mexicali bars are common, he added.
Mendez usually goes to bed around 7 p.m. before getting up at 1:30 a.m. After waiting hours in line, he hopes to work between 6 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., taking home around $59 for the day. He said it’s not a life he wants for his son in the seventh grade.
“When you wake up at one or two in the morning, you’re hurting yourself,” he said. “It’s a better time to sleep.”
Wearing work clothes and carrying backpacks with packed lunches, the farmworkers will at times travel as far north as Coachella and all over the Valley.
Juan Escobar, 42, has been working in the fields for 18 to 20 years. His father worked in the fields and showed him how.
Like Mendez, he doesn’t want his children to work in the fields either.
“It’s too hard,” he said. “The job is hard, crossing the border is hard, and the pay. It’s not too much. It’s not a good way.”
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org