Most of their time in Canada is limited to sleeping, eating and working long days that can stretch to 15 hours, without overtime pay.
“People look to Canada as a model for their success at making temporary workers truly temporary,” said David FitzGerald, an immigration expert at the University of California at San Diego. “But the way they are prevented from staying is by socially isolating them to an extreme degree, controlling their movements and systematically preventing them from interacting with Canadian society,” he said.
“From a labor rights perspective, it’s troubling, but it’s appealing to policymakers because it keeps the workers temporary,” FitzGerald said.
‘Everything is nice there’
Still, migrants interviewed here in the high desert towns of rural Zacatecas said work in Canada is hard but fair and well-paid. Their employers treated them well, they said, and when they didn’t, the local Mexican consulate intervened.
“The consulate threatens to take away their Mexicans, and usually that’s enough,” said Armando Tenorio, who first worked in Quebec tending flowers and herbs inside a massive greenhouse.
Now Tenorio spends eight months on a berry farm outside Vancouver and comes home every winter with thousands in savings and duffel bags stuffed with chocolate-covered blueberries.
“Everything is nice there. It’s not all disorganized like this,” he said, back in his home town of Troncoso, where armed men park their pickups on the hill near his house at night, watching the highway below as lookouts for drug traffickers.
Like many workers here, he said he’s torn between the need to earn money and the long separations from his wife and daughter.
“Honestly, I’d rather be able to do work in the United States and bring my family with me,” he said. “But only with a visa.”