The Secret Lives of Foreign Workers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

FOREIGNERS ON THE FARM, PART 1

The Secret Lives of Foreign Workers

Rob Hunt Rob Hunt
Arturo Osorio Arturo Osorio
Jose Cruz Balcazar Jose Cruz Balcazar

Addison, Vermont - November 18, 2008

It's 2:30 a.m. in Addison.

While many Vermonters sleep, morning chores have already started.

Jose Cruz Balcazar is not used to the cold.

"I am 18 years old and I am from Tabasco-- in southern Mexico," he says through a translator. "Here my job is to milk, everything that the boss says; milking, cleaning."

He works alongside Arturo Osorio.

"I am 26 years old," Arturo says through a translator. "I mostly milk cows, feed the cows, make the mix of feed."

Both are from Mexico and both risked their lives for these jobs.

"Yes, I am scared of police," Jose says.

They agreed to talk to us to help Vermonters understand why they're here.

"It's just how I tell my boss; we're not here to commit crimes, we're here to work and send money to Mexico to our families," Jose explains.

Around 5:00 a.m., the farmer Rob Hunt is up.

"These guys you never have to wake up and make sure the lights are on-- they're here," he says.

He's hired three Mexicans to work on his farm.

"I didn't hire them because I didn't want Vermonters, I would hire a Vermonter if they'd apply," Rob explains.

"In the beginning they don't have a clue what I'm saying. My Spanish is better for Arturo then Jose because he's heard it for longer! Plus the Vermont accent I'm sure doesn't make it easier to understand," Rob says.

"I think I speak more English," Arturo says.

"Yeah, especially with Arturo we speak more English," Rob agrees.

Arturo is back for a second three-year stay on the farm. His first time here he saved up enough money to build a house in Mexico. But his wife got ill and with mounting medical bills, he came back to make money.

"At first I thought I would never come back but then being in Mexico... I missed working," Arturo says.

He says there are not many jobs in Mexico and the few don't pay well. Here he makes about $8 an hour-- about $600 a week. It could take at least a month to make that in Mexico. He sends most of the money home.

"I have two children-- a boy and a girl-- they are 6 and 5 years old," he says.

Reporter Kristin Carlson: Your children must miss you?

Arturo: Yes, sometimes I call and they say, 'daddy I miss you and I don't feel good,' or my wife-- miss her-- when I call every time it's hard.

Around noon it's break time. Arturo is free until the last milking-- around 5:00 p.m.

The three workers live in a trailer on the farm. Rob Hunt pays for the heat, rent, utilities and medical care. But Arturo almost didn't make it back here-- he got stopped in New Mexico.

"It was very hard. I paid a lot of money and then immigration stopped me twice, so I ended up in jail," he says.

He was sent back to an unfamiliar border town in Mexico.

"There's a lot of bad people. They promise they can send you back to the U.S. but they just want your money," Arturo says.

He called Rob Hunt, who wired him money. The second trip he eluded police, but is still paying Hunt back. All told, it cost him $6,000 to get here-- double the usual cost.

"It was expensive for me to get to Vermont. It costs all of us," Jose says.

Jose had to walk three days in the desert to cross the border and meet human smugglers who would take him to Vermont.

"Once I was in the desert I wanted to go back, but if I go back to Mexico I have to pay that money back," he explains. "Once I got to New Mexico I got a ride in the back of a truck, but we piled up in the back. So it was hard to get here."

It can be isolating living in secret. Jose and Arturo rarely go out and when they do it's with Rob Hunt; just to church, the grocery store and to wire money home.

Reporter Kristin Carlson: Are you worried about being sent back to Mexico by the Police?

"When I'm home I feel secure and safe, but when I go to the store then I feel a little worried," Arturo says. "Because a lot people stare at us when we go to town in the stores... maybe because we look different."

Both say they plan to return to Mexico in two to three years.

"I miss my family-- my father and my sister-- a whole lot," Jose says.

They are taking a risk talking publicly, but say their story is like hundreds of Hispanic farm workers in Vermont.

"There are a lot of Mexicans on the farms here. Just up the street there's three Mexicans," Jose says.

"I would like people to realize we are here only to work. We're not here to harm anyone," Arturo says.

According to a Vermont Farm Bureau survey, Mexican workers contribute to half of all the milk produced in the state.

Kristin Carlson - WCAX News

Related Stories:

Foreigners on the Farm, Part 2: Is Vt. Turning a Blind Eye to Illegal Workers?

Foreigners on the Farm, Part 3: How Police Deal with Illegal Workers

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