Page One

Ex-migrant workers sue for back wages

The Associated Press
Tuesday March 06, 2001

FRESNO — A group of former migrant workers is suing the governments of Mexico and the United States over money they say they were never paid for working on American farms and railroads more than 50 years ago. 

Four workers, know as “braceros” in Spanish, from the World War II era filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco March 1.  

The suit accuses the U.S., the Republic of Mexico and several banks, including Wells Fargo and Banco de Mexico, of illegally withholding money from up to 300,000 foreign workers between 1942 and 1949. 

“Depending on whose estimates you believe, we could be looking at up to half-a-billion dollars or so,” said Valeriano Saucedo, a Visalia-based plaintiffs’ lawyer. 

A treaty between the U.S. and Mexico allowed an army of workers to take temporary jobs here during the labor shortages of World War II. The treaty required that 10 percent of workers’ salaries be automatically deducted and sent to Mexican banks to serve as a savings account. 

Many ex-braceros say they never got that money. 

“I think there’s a lot of interest and energy by both the U.S. and Mexico to finally resolve this issue and I hope it will be handled in a very cooperative way,” Saucedo said.  

“It’s simply a matter of tracking the funds.” 

To that end, some immigrant rights groups are holding meetings in California’s agricultural heartland to find as many braceros or their descendants as they can. 

One such meeting was a Sunday gathering at Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Delano. The organizers were called the Ex-Braceros and Beneficiaries Union of the Central Valley, a coalition of immigrant rights organizations trying to help braceros in their claims. 

Several old men attended the meeting, signing their names to a registry list. Younger men and women showed up with their children to learn whether their fathers qualified to join the class-action lawsuit. 

Everyone was told to find immigration papers and other documents to support their claims of working during the bracero years. While many guest workers returned to Mexico after the bracero program ended, others chose to immigrate legally to the United States with their families. 

“Justice will be served if the money is returned to the braceros,” said Maria Luisa Pacheco, a Delano resident whose husband, Ruben, says he is owed money. 

The four workers now included in the suit are Senorino Ramirez Cruz of Santa Rosa, Calif.; Leocadio de la Rosa of Soledad, Calif.; Liborio Santiago Perez of Mexico; and Felipe Nava, of LaGrange, Ill.