As if filing taxes wasn't a good enough reason to hang on to your old pay stubs, thousands of Mexican guest farm workers are discovering another reason: back pay.
As the New York Times reported Monday, the governments of the United States and Mexico are working to give the 2.5 million braceros a one-time payment of $3,500 for long overdue withheld wages. One problem is that many of the former migrant workers who came to the United States to work in the program from 1942 to 1964 are either dead or in their old age, and are having difficulty tracking down the documents they need to prove they were in the U.S. about 50 or so years ago.
The Mexican government took 10% of the braceros' wages to hold until their eventual return to Mexico. But many didn't get it back, and in 2001 a group of braceros from the World War II era filed a federal lawsuit against Mexico. The government announced a reparation program in 2005, but required braceros in the United States to travel to Mexico to register, a difficult journey for the elderly and infirm, the Times reported.
A federal judge is set to consider granting final approval of the settlement in February. Mexico has since applied its program to braceros in both countries, eliminating the travel requirement.
The $3,500 windfall wouldn't go far for many.
"All of us braceros are dead," Lazaro Gonzalez told the Times. "It would be for my funeral."
Francisco Flores, 83, held on to his 1948 contract, which he now hopes will be the proof he needs to collect his back pay. The contract details his hourly wage of 50 cents and specifies how much he would be paid for losing a limb: $1,000 for the loss of both hands; $500 for an eye, $25 for the loss of a digit, and so on.
Cirilo Perez-Torres, 86, lost all of his papers years ago in a flood in his home state of Guanajuato. "I remember everything, the fields, the places, the crops. But they are not accepting my memories," he told the Times. He was given the phone number hotline established by the law firm in the settlement for inquiries: 877-436-9359.
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job hunt at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com