Guest worker program poorly run, critics charge

On July 15, more than 180 people departed from Colima, Mexico, bound for Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta farms for six months of work.

The terms of their journey were so special – they were going legally – that Colima's state government threw a party to celebrate. The workers carried H-2A farm labor visas, sponsored by a Delta employer who promised wages of $100 a day, 40 hours of work a week, free housing and low-cost meals.

After a month, some workers said, it proved too good to be true.

The housing was filthy, and meals were mostly beans. The workers had fronted $600 to cover visas and travel costs, yet many were earning little or nothing because there wasn't enough work.

As the U.S.-Mexico border tightens and immigration enforcement increases, the Bush administration is expected to announce reforms to make it easier for businesses to import H-2A workers.

Labor advocates and some prominent industry representatives agree, however, that neither agribusiness nor government officials are ready to manage an expansion that could make California the country's biggest importer of legal guest workers.

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