Central Valley

Former braceros protest red tape

Dozens of people came to the Mexican consulate office in Fresno on Monday to protest requirements that former guest workers had to meet for a one-time payment of roughly $3,500. The last day to register for a claim was Monday.

Many former guest workers walked inside the consulate office at 2409 Merced St. demanding they receive payment. A few held signs that read in Spanish "No to the False Agreement" and "No More Fraud." A crowd of about 70 squeezed into the entrance of the office.

A recent settlement in San Francisco had only allowed guest workers who worked between 1942 to 1946 to claim the benefit in the United States. But the Mexican consulate decided to allow guest workers who worked during the entire years of the "bracero" program, 1947 to 1964, to apply in Fresno.

Braceros had to register to obtain the claim between Oct. 23 and Monday. However, they had to submit proof such as original work contracts or proof of payments, and a birth certificate. Heriberto Gonzalez, the consul in charge, couldn't provide an estimate on the number of people who registered at Fresno's Mexican consulate office.

Between 1942 and 1946, the program required 10% of workers' wages to be deducted and sent to Mexico in the form of a savings fund to encourage them to return home. But somewhere in the transfer of the funds between the two nations, the money disappeared.

Many former braceros don't have all their original documents, so they couldn't register for the claim, and others gave up because of the long process to meet the requirements.

Maria Mata, 58, of Fresno, was one of the protesters. Mata said her mother, who is 87, can't obtain the payment owed to her deceased husband because she can't come to the office and only has a copy of the marriage certificate. Mata said her mother has cancer and is wheelchair-bound.

"My mom is sick. I can't bring her here," Mata said. "If there's no deadline extension, we can't do anything."