New group to help Mexican farm workers find legal jobs here

SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Son. – Mexican farm workers can’t find jobs and many find it difficult to go through the legal venues.

On the other side of the border, local growers are unable to find enough people to produce the labor.

Based on these two findings, the Project Manos Unidas (United Hands) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS)-Mexico created the Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agricolas (CITA), or the Agricultural Worker Independent Center, said Erica Dahl-Bredine, CRS-Mexico Country Manager.

Members of CRS, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas with the Tucson Diocese, Father Manuel de Santos with the Diocese of Mexicali, Mayor Larry Nelson and members of Yuma County Interfaith, CITA director Janine Duron and others met Thursday in San Luis Rio Colorado for the introduction of the program and a tour of the CITA facility, located in Callejon Kino and 21st Street.

With the support of the Mexicali and Tucson dioceses and Yuma County Interfaith, the nonprofit organization was established to improve the quality of life for farm workers and their families by helping them through legal procedures to obtain necessary papers to work in the U.S.

At the same time, the agency will pair workers with agricultural contractors, mainly those at a smaller scale, who need to raise their work force.

“We hope to encourage cooperation from our two countries and find legal avenues for people to cross the border to do necessary work and (be able) to provide for their families,” Kicanas said.

CITA also provides an alternate way to cooperate with current immigration policies with legal opportunities for workers and employers to secure the work force for the farm, he said.

The first phase of the project is to start filing H-2A forms for farm workers and then pairing them with employers who have signed and agreed to abide by a code of conduct, Dahl-Bredine said.

This will ensure that farm workers will have fair working conditions and employers will have committed workers that will get the job done, Duron said.

The H-2A temporary agricultural program establishes a means for agricultural employers who expect a shortage of workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor temporarily or seasonally, according the U.S. Department of Labor Web site.

So far, 500 workers have been placed in jobs and their visas are being processed. The hope is to have 800 or more workers placed in jobs this season, Dahl-Bredine said.

Organizers hope CITA will also be a place of resource for workers and employers to find conflict resolution, health insurance information, training and even create a burial benefit.

An additional office in Yuma is planned soon, Duron said.

Although the recruitment of workers has only been through word of mouth, Duron has already been “inundated” with requests for work. She’s also received a “very good” response from the growers who she hopes this “will help them grow the right way.”

Juana M. Gyek can be reached at jgyek@yumasun.com or 539-6872

www.yumasun.com

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