From farm worker to farm owner: Different views on immigration

On January 25, KCRW will travel to Oxnard College for a special live broadcast about the future of undocumented immigrants under a Trump Administration.

This past month, we’ve been speaking with different people living in Ventura and Santa Barbara to get their views on immigration.

Maria Jimenez, undocumented farm worker

Before coming to the US, Maria Jimenez had been a farm worker in Mexico. “I worked barefoot, in the dirt,” she said. “I know what the work is.”

Jimenez, who now works in the fields in Santa Paula, California came to America in 2001. The injustices happening in the field were immediately apparent. “It’s so harsh,” she said. “Having to wake up super early in the morning to be at work by 4 am. Having to walk so far to get a drink of water. Being under the sun for so many hours. I got blisters on my back just from being out exposed to the sun. Having to have my boss give me dirty looks and come behind me saying, ‘oh, let me help you,’ but really just trying to touch me. Having to stay quiet because if I speak out, I could lose my job.”

Two of her four sons are also living in the US without papers, and are starting families of their own. The other two went back to Mexico, and she hasn’t seen them in 14 years because she’s afraid she won’t be able to return if she goes to Mexico. She hasn’t seen her mother since she first crossed the border 16 years ago.

Jimenez said she’d like members of Congress to go out and work in the fields or in a packing house and live the life of an undocumented immigrant for one day. “Then they could experience personally what it is.”

Luis Garfias, a Dreamer

Luis Garfias went to high school in the Santa Ynez Valley, but when his classmates started looking at colleges, he didn’t think he’d be one of them. Undocumented students, including DACA students and Dreamers, are not eligible for federal student aid.

“I applied anyway. I wanted to prove to myself that I was college material.”

He was accepted to several colleges, and finally chose Santa Barbara City College. He was able to pay for most of it through local scholarships that didn’t require a social security number. But, he couldn’t apply for certain lab work or internships that required proof of citizenship.

Garfias then transferred to UCSB and graduated in 2013 with a degree in mechanical engineering. That same year, President Obama signed the executive action DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows people who were brought illegally to the United States as young children to stay.

“I actually had a little paper; a social security number and work permit,” said Garfias.

He now works at ProCore Technologies in Carpinteria. If DACA gets repealed and he can’t renew his work permit, he’d have to leave the company.

He also works at Four Ingenieros Foundation, a scholarship fund he created for underrepresented students interested in science and technology.

“I’d keep providing resources that might not be available to those students,” said Garfias.

Nayra Pacheco, activist

When she was six years old, Nayra Pacheco crossed the border from Mexico to California illegally. She has lived in Santa Barbara ever since.

Like Garfias, Pacheco is currently able to work legally through the DACA program. “I have a timeline of six months until my work permit expires,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to renew it, or how immigration policy will change. I have to tap into the strength I garnered when I was in college, which was the same situation – uncertainty. It’s a quality that’s very much part of the immigrant experience. Having to deal constantly with uncertainty, and still continue to grind and work our hardest.”

Bob Jones, farm owner

Bob Jones grows strawberries on 300 acres in Oxnard. He employs hundreds of farm workers each year, many of whom are undocumented.

He’s noticed fewer and fewer people are crossing the border to work for him. Now, he’s having trouble getting his crops harvested.

“There’s two reasons. The workers are afraid to cross the border, with the politics and fees that are charged these days, and the competition from Mexico.”

Jones wants to see some type of guest worker program that would allow laborers to work in the US legally, but also give them the freedom to visit family in their home country. He finds fault with the H2A program because it demands farm owners to house their workers.

“With such a housing shortage in the county, we can’t get all the labor here because we don’t have affordable homes to get them into,” he said.

Larry Gonzalez, Oxnard resident

Larry Gonzalez has lived in Oxnard for 70 years. He migrated from Mexico when he was a kid. Back then, he said, Mexicans were expected to assimilate into “white culture.”

“My mother was a migrant worker, but she was determined that she was going to blend in with the neighbors, who were predominantly white,” he said. “She made it a point that we were going to dress like the white folks, we were going to keep our house up like the white folks, we were going to live like the white folks, and we were going to integrate.”

Now, he doesn’t like how Mexican culture has influenced the town in the way of Spanish billboards, Hispanic markets and Mexican fashion.

“Everything went toward the trend of the Hispanic race,” he said. “Saturdays and Sundays you hear the Mexican music blaring out loud. Sometimes, I have to knock on the neighbor’s house and tell them enough is enough. They bring their ways into the neighborhoods, and I don’t think it’s fair.”

We want to hear from you.

Event info is here, and you can listen live at 7pm on KCRW and KCRW.COM.