Gerardo Santiago Hernández is from Guerrero, a community in the state of Hidalgo where job opportunities are scarce. Because of this, Gerardo was forced to look for a job in the US on an H-2A visa to support himself, his wife and his 4 children (the youngest just six years old). When Gerardo had to leave his family, he did it with the hope of a better life, but unfortunately, he didn’t get what he had hoped for.
For four years, Gerardo was employed through the temporary H-2A visa program. He remembers a time of hard work in the fields. He first arrived in North Carolina, where he worked picking sweet potatoes. He then worked a season in Florida, harvesting and picking oranges. Finally, he worked in a nursery in the state of Michigan.
His contracts only lasted 3 or 4 months. However, his employer made him and his coworkers stay longer, promising them he would apply for visa extensions. Gerardo didn’t know if he could trust his boss and he felt uncomfortable about working with an expired visa, because he didn’t want to make a mistake or break a law. Nevertheless, he felt he had no other option.
What were your work experiences like under the H-2A visa program in the United States?
For me, working in the United States was sad and difficult. My coworkers and I were mistreated by the company and the recruiter, who always cheated us and never kept their promises.
What did you go through with Four Star Greenhouse?
We had been doing hard work picking sweet potatoes and oranges, so we were excited by the promise that when we went to Michigan they were going to pay us more per hour. But when the recruiter brought us to Michigan to work with Four Star Greenhouse, they ultimately stopped paying us altogether. They kept me and eight other coworkers locked up in an apartment for a month. I felt like I had been kidnapped. Neither the boss nor the recruiter answered our calls. We were really worried. They didn’t take us to go grocery shopping or to add money to our phones so that we could stay in touch with our families and loved ones in Mexico.
How did it happen that you were detained and deported?
One day, I was feeling sick, so I went to speak to Four Star to let them know. They asked me why I hadn’t bought medicine and I told them that I hadn’t been paid. Shortly thereafter, Four Star’s recruiter turned me and my coworkers in to immigration. We spent about 50 days in detention, without money and without the ability to contact our families.
Gerardo returned to Mexico, but now he feels happy to be reunited with his family. He is also hopeful. With the help of the legal teams at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and Farmworker Legal Services, Gerardo filed a case to seek justice for the abuses he suffered as a temporary migrant worker in the United States.
What would you say to other migrant workers?
I would encourage you to be very careful and if you notice anything strange or think that you’re being abused or cheated by the recruiter or the boss, seek help.
Now, Gerardo knows that migrant workers can communicate with inspectors and lawyers to defend their rights as workers.