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Farmworkers Need Suitable And Affordable Housing In Yuma County

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Amanda Solliday
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San Luis-Affordable farmworker housing is in high demand in Yuma County, where up to 50,000 seasonal workers are employed annually.

While there are some federal programs to help workers obtain housing, the onus is on employers to provide housing to some of their seasonal employees.  Specifically, those doing work that American workers take a pass on.

Thousands of farmworkers gather every December at “Dia del Campesino,” or day of the farmworker, at a park that sits just yards from the San Luis, Arizona port of entry on the U.S. Mexico border. The event provides an opportunity for workers to connect with resources for help with immigration issues, healthcare, legal aid, housing and more.

Dia del Campesino begins at 3 a.m. because most farmworkers start their long days crossing the border here.  They often wait hours to cross into the united states. 

51-year old Jose Iniguez has been crossing the border to work in the fields for the last 25 years. 

His work day would be significantly shorter if he lived in the U.S., but he said he doesn’t make enough money to move across the border to Arizona.

"My family is in Mexico and I can’t live here and be providing for two households," Iniguez said in Spanish. "You simply can’t. If I can find a small apartment or something cheaper then yes we would come here.”

Iniguez has a green card, and with his family in nearby San Luis Rio Colorado, his choice of where to live is purely economic.

But other farmworkers face a different challenge. 

According to the Independent Agricultural Worker Center in San Luis Rio Colorado, or CITA, over 37,000 H2A agricultural guest workers were approved this year to work in Arizona.  Many of these workers already live just across the border, but some come from further south and only come here for work.

3,100 of those workers are in Yuma County, a region that lacks affordable temporary housing. Even though many choose to live in Mexico, the U.S. government requires growers to house H2A workers.

Arturo  Moreira, of Williams Builders of Yuma is part of an effort to provide housing units for guest workers in Yuma County.

"There is great demand for housing and there isn’t any," Moreira said in Spanish. "Right now we are working with city officials and the community to build housing. The demand is there and we have to supply it."

The shortage of housing, along with complaints about H2A workers loitering around their temporary housing and increasing rhetoric about Mexican immigration make for a challenging environment for H2A workers.

"How can we make people understand that these people are just here to work?" Moreira said.

H2A employers today rent out entire motels, work with local builders to plan self help housing projects and provide rent subsidies for some workers.

Growers have contracted Moreira’s company in hopes of building a 53 units apartment building in Yuma County.  The complex will be big enough to house 600 guest workers a year.

But that’s still not enough for the number of H2A visa guest workers that come to Yuma County. The numbers increase each year.

"We no longer have in this economy a willing and able workforce," Executive director of CITA Janine Duron said. "There are many able and willing workers ready to come into the country that would provide the production and the environment necessary to succeed in this marketplace.”

Duron works with agriculture employers in Salinas, California to help them provide suitable and affordable housing for farmworkers. Some of those growers also employ workers here in Yuma County.  Duron said communities have an interest in providing housing and a welcoming environment to these workers.

“They're a blessing for our economy…they’re very hard workers they stay to themselves and they don’t cause problems as a rule," Duron said. "We find that they don’t overstay their visas. I don’t see any really negative effect by them coming."

"They don’t seem to displace our American workforce because we don’t have one that is willing and able in the numbers that we need.” she said.