Irma Medellin stands in front of our group and beams ear to ear as she welcomes us into her community, “We wish we had someplace to welcome you, but what we do have is yours.”
The place she has welcomed us is her community center, an aluminum tarped canopy that sits in the side yard of a home. The floor is dirt and there are only two walls, the side of the house and a wood fence. The average daily temperature reaches high nineties, and since we arrived at noon, the sweltering heat of the day was already radiating. Irma’s community center serves as the location for summer activities for neighborhood children, and you could see their handiwork and crafts adorning the walls.
There are no sidewalks, only roads, no streetlights, no air-conditioning, and no public restrooms in her town. The water pipes being used are over 100 years old, suffer from contamination leeks and will not sustain community growth.
It sounds like a village in Mexico, but this is actually Central Valley, CA, the town of Plainview. It will not appear on any GPS or Google search, but sits halfway between two of the richest economies in California – Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Plainview is only fifteen minutes from Lindsay, CA a typical American town with a Starbucks, grocery store, and other amenities, but the residents of Lindsay are unaware of the hardships happening in Plainview.
Who lives in Plainview? Immigrant farm workers and their families:
- Individuals who left their home out of starvation with the hope of a better existence
- Mothers who trusted the lives of their children with ‘coyotes’ – people who smuggle immigrants across the border- never knowing if their children would make it alive or be left for dead
- Men who walk days across two deserts carrying only four gallons of water, praying its enough
- Young couples who want their future children to live a life apart from drug cartel violence
- People, just like you and me who have dreams, desires, hope, and faith in something better
What is waiting for them if they survive the journey? Most end up like residences of Plainview, farm workers. They get up before dawn and arrive at orchards to pick fruit trees. Each carry a canvas bag, for women the bag is 40lbs and men 100lbs. They wear heavy long sleeve jackets with high collars and a large hat with bandanna’s to protect their face from pesticides (remember daily temperature hover in the nineties). Each worker runs up and down ladders with pruning sheers and fills their bag twenty times over to fill one tub that sits below the trees. Women usually fill seven tubs and men ten, all before noon. Each are paid by the number of tubs they fill.
They have no health insurance or workmen’s comp, if they fall from the ladder and break their back they rely on goodwill of friends and neighbors to support them. Without preventative care, by age 40, many workers develop a hunched back from the weight of the bags and develop skin rashes from exposure to pesticides.
It’s hard work, and its tempting to dismiss; but what if I told you children were exposed to these conditions too? I met a 14 year old girl who helps her mother everyday because her father was deported. If she does not work, they have no money to support her younger brothers and sisters. She started working at 11 years old.
You may not believe this, taking solace in child labor laws, but protections offered to U.S. citizens are not accessible to immigrant families. Take automobile ownership for example. Local authorities know residents of Plainview are undocumented, they often stake out a few miles down the road and pull over motorist. When coming across undocumented drivers, cars are confiscated and sold at public police auctions. This leaves families devastated, they have no way to access grocery stores or get to work. Many automobiles are financed from ‘by here pay here’ dealerships. Having a car impounded does not absolve owners from monthly car payments, creating more strain in families already in financial hardships. Two cars have been impounded from this young girl’s family; they have no legal recourse for help.
These kind of systematic abuses are widespread among immigrant communities. It’s easy to think this could be avoided by ‘waiting in line’ to come into the U.S. legally, but that’s the misconception. There is no ‘legal’ way to enter the United States for many citizens of countries in South and Central America. One man in Plainview was granted citizenship this year, one, and he applied in 1986. He waited almost thirty years. The current policies and structure of the United Sates immigration system are outdated and were never intended to manage current trends. This makes immigrate communities very susceptible to con-artists and abuses of power. I believe it is our responsibility to pressure community leaders to take a hard look at current practices happening in immigrant towns across the country.
If you would like to help:
- EDUCATE: learn current immigration public policy and stories
Dying to Live, A Migrant’s Journey : A video chronicling United Sates boarder crossing and its dangers
Immigration Policy Center: A non-profit organization dedicated to shape a rational conversation on immigration and immigrant integration
Dream Act: Allows a 2 year reprieve of immigration status to individuals between 16-31yrs who have not been involved in criminal activity, have lived in the U.S for five years, and has obtained a GED
- VOTE: know initiatives on local ballots and how it will effect immigrant communities
Ballot*Pedia: A website devoted to explaining current California ballots to be voted on in November
Write to Congress: Locate your representative by clicking the link
- VOLUNTEER: Find non-profit organizations dedicated to helping immigrant families
El Quinto Sol De America : Irma Medellin non-profit organization that is helping citizens of Plainview, CA
- STUDY: Discover Biblical views of immigration and other political issues
What’s the Biblical View on Immigration?: My blog post quoting thought from some of the top Christian leaders on immigration and the Word
Patheos: A website that discusses hot-button issues from a faith-based prospective