Some of the protesting Whatcom County workers are taking up their former employer’s offer of a trip back to Mexico. Others are making their own plans to return or pursuing other visa options.
At least 25 workers camping and protesting what they say was mistreatment at Sarbanand Farms will fly home to Mexico starting Tuesday, according to a lawyer and other advocates for the group of more than 70.
They are part of a 600-person crew brought to the U.S. to pick blueberries at Sarbanand under the H-2A visa program. Many said they were forced to work long hours in the heat and smoky air, underfed and given no medical care.
About 65 of the workers refused to come to work starting Aug. 4 after one of their fellow berry pickers, Honesto Silva Ibarra, 28, was hospitalized. He died on Aug. 6 at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Representatives of the farm say the workers were not mistreated, but the company fired them on Aug. 5. They have been camping near the farm ever since.
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The workers have been reluctant to go home out of concern they’d be blacklisted from ever returning to the U.S. by foreign-worker recruitment companies such as CSI Visa Processing, which arranged their H-2A work visas. That hasn’t changed, said Joe Morrison, a lawyer representing the workers.
“It does not mean their concerns have been addressed,” said Morrison. “It’s really up to CSI and other labor contractors in Mexico to clean up that behavior.”
Thirteen workers will be flying out from the Bellingham airport on Tuesday, followed by 12 more the next day, said Maru Mora Villalpando, an organizer with Washington-based Latino Advocacy.
Sarbanand Farms is paying for their trip home.
Others are making plans to go home on their own dime or staying for the time being, according to Morrison.
“Some people are thinking they should stay,” Villalpando said. “Others think if they do go home and get blacklisted, they’ll figure it out.”
Morrison and Villalpando also said the workers’ families in Mexico are anxious to have them come home.