The savings government officials wanted to create for Mexican workers never made it to most of them,and despite recent attempts to retrieve the cash,some workers say it never will.
The U.S. government recruited more than 400,000 Mexican workers – braceros – to toil in American industries beginning in World War II,when departing soldiers left many farms and factories empty. A forced savings program deducted 10 percent of braceros' wages from the program's start in 1942 until as late as 1949. The money was sent to Mexico through various banks,including Wells Fargo,but because of muddled records it is unclear where the money landed.
An average bracero earned 40 to 90 cents a day,meaning the forced savings plan was a few pennies,but even a handful of pennies adds up with 60 years of interest. Now some braceros could collect more than $1 million.
Lawyers filed suit more than a year ago against the U.S. and Mexican governments and several banks on behalf of the braceros,and 25 representatives introduced legislature in the House of Representatives June 12 to ensure the case is heard. Though they appreciate the effort,some braceros,including Juventino Mendoza Ortiz,say the money already is beyond reach.
“I believe the money has already been spent and blown by the politicians,” Ortiz said.
Not all braceros tried to retrieve their savings,said Enrique Martinez,a lawyer helping with the lawsuit. Language barriers often left workers in the dark,while other workers simply never made it to Mexico City,where the money was to be dispensed.
But those that did attempt to claim their savings,including Ortiz,were given the “run-around,” Martinez said. In Ortiz's case,Mexican officials said there was no money listed for him. Rather than fight,Ortiz resigned himself to the loss and continued his life,moving back to the United States in 1948.
Yet,at 81,Ortiz still becomes upset when he thinks about the money he never got and the work for which he never received credit. Angry and disillusioned,he does not expect success.
“It's wishful thinking,” Ortiz said. “I admire what (they) are doing,and I hope they hear something,but I am not expecting a damn thing.”
However,“they,” including Rep. Sam Farr,D-Calif.,and lawyers such as Martinez,say there is a good chance to win the multi-million dollar lawsuit.
“We have an excellent chance,” Martinez said. “We have solid evidence that the United States knew about Mexico's diversion of money. Documents (Department of State letters) show that U.S. government officials knew braceros weren't getting money. They knew as early as ‘42,but continued ‘til ‘49.”
Also helping plaintiffs' case is the recently introduced Braceros' Justice Act that would waive the statute of limitations and right of either country to claim sovereignty – two arguments defense lawyers have used in an attempt to have the case dismissed.
Though the bill has remained in committee since its introduction,Farr and the other 24 representatives sponsoring it remain committed to making the braceros' plight heard.
“We have to get to the bottom of this,and it's something Congress is equipped to handle,” Farr said.