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Newspaper article

Family needs help for unhappy return to Mexico

Date

2009-10-09

Authors

Brian Shypula

Abstract

A dream for a better life in Canada has become a nightmare for a family from Mexico who must return home before their visas expire Nov. 6.

Newspaper title

The Beacon Herald

Full text

A dream for a better life in Canada has become a nightmare for a family from Mexico who must return home before their visas expire Nov. 6.

Juan Soler, who is on compensation after being hurt on the job at a Sebringville business, and wife Claudia Perez, who isn't legally allowed to work in Canada, don't have the money to get themselves and their three children back to Mexico.

They're grateful to local schools and churches which are coming to their aid.

"I'm afraid because I have wonderful family and I want my family to be OK," Mr. Soler said in an interview.

St. Michael Catholic Secondary School, where the couple's eldest daughter Paola, 15, is in Grade 10, is trying to raise $3,500 to pay for their airfare by holding a twoonie drive, asking students and staff to donate $2 each.

A collection Wednesday raised $1,200, less than expected, likely because of a high number of absences due to H1N1 flu, said Natanael Mateus-Ruiz, chaplain at St. Mike's.

Donations are also being accepted from outside the school community.

"If we can raise a little bit more to have enough money for them to at least have food for the first week they're there," he said.

Younger siblings, 11-year-old Eduardo and eight-year-old Ariana, attend Bedford Public School, which is also behind the family.

Principal David MacLennan said his church, Central United, is making a donation. Other staff members at Bedford are going to their churches and service clubs, as well.

"We're concerned that this family has to leave. They're a great family, great kids," he said.

"They're in a catch-22."

Mr. Soler said the pressure he and his family are under is making them unwell. He and his wife are exhausted from worrying and their children have stomach aches from the anxiety.

"We want to stay here in Canada," he said.

Mr. Soler came here in November 2008, recruited as a migrant worker by Luckhart Transport to work in its washbay cleaning livestock trailers. His family followed him to Stratford three months later after selling everything they had in Mexico.

The 40-year-old Mr. Soler said he has degrees in civil engineering and marketing and worked as a sales manager for a coffee company in Mexico. His family had a good life in San Luis Potosi, but he wanted to escape Mexico's worsening economic situation and give his children a better opportunity in life.

Although the Luckhart job wasn't what he expected from the interview, he said, he intended to stick with it because the $11.50 an hour was the stepping stone to a new life in Canada. It was his plan to work for Luckhart for three years, then apply for residency, find a better job and make a permanent home here.

"But unfortunately I had my accident," he said.

Mr. Soler slipped and fell while washing out a trailer in early May. He has rotator cuff tears in both shoulders and a tear to the meniscus in his left knee. He spent two days in Stratford General Hospital.

Unable to work at the physically demanding job, he is now collecting $2,000 a month through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

WSIB has also agreed to pay for the three operations he needs to repair his injuries after he returns to Mexico. Doctors have told him he'll need 10-12 months to fully recover.

Meantime, he was told by Luckhart in June that the company would not renew his contract, which meant his visa and his family's visas would not be renewed beyond Nov. 6.

Mr. Soler has applied to the Canadian Human Rights Commission to intervene.

"I want to get justice for my treatment," he said.

St. Mike's principal Tim Doherty questioned the fairness of laws governing migrant workers in Canada and their treatment by the Sebringville company.

"This is the second family where we've had students in the school where it seems odd the way they've been treated," he said.

Mr. Mateus-Ruiz said the school raised $2,800 in a twoonie drive for the last family, who were left stranded after the father was abruptly put on a plane back to Mexico last year.

It looks like Mr. Soler was cast aside by the company after he was injured, they said.

"You can't do that to a Canadian citizen, for sure. I don't know what rights or what responsibilities companies have when they bring in migrant workers ... but then there's legal responsibility and moral responsibility," Mr. Doherty said.

"I think it's absolutely unfair what's happened to them," said Mr. Mateus-Ruiz, a native of Colombia who gets to know the Mexican migrants because he speaks Spanish and acts as their translator if they can't speak English.

Doug Luckhart, president of Luckhart Transport, said he's being unfairly painted as a villain.

"The only reason his permit isn't being renewed is we can't legally renew his permit for this position if he can't do the work," he said.

He pointed out that the company has continued to pay Mr. Soler's benefits, including drug and dental plans, even though it didn't have to once he began to receive the WSIB payments.

Mr. Luckhart said he goes to the airport to meet the workers and their families and goes above and beyond his obligations as an employer. He paid to outfit the Solers' apartment with furniture, dishes and linens and stocked it with food for their arrival nine months ago.

Feelings are hurt on both sides.

Mr. Luckhart said he was insulted when he was served papers through the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

"If somebody sics the law on you with a bunch of lies, how would you feel towards them," he asked.

The company has been recruiting workers from Mexico for three years because it has a hard time filling the washbay jobs locally. The job pays the same whether the employees are from Canada or Mexico, but the migrants are usually the only ones to stick with it.

"What they do is a dirty, wet, shitty, slimy, sticking job," Mr. Luckhart said.

While at least two migrant workers have had their jobs terminated and were sent home early -- one for stealing and one for fighting -- Mr. Luckhart said the program is a success and the company will continue to recruit in Mexico because it is practical and also helps the migrants improve their lives.

Mr. Soler said lawyers have told him he could apply for a visitor's visa to try to extend their stay but he doesn't want to do anything to jeopardize his family's chances at being able to return to Canada in the future by staying beyond Nov. 6.

Even with the monthly compensation, Mr. Soler said, it's been hard to make ends meet. They pay $800 a month rent for their Kappele Circle apartment and have had to use the Salvation Army food bank.

Also before they leave, they need to a find a new home for their dog, Woody. They were given the purebred German shepherd as a gift and are saddened at having to leave the three-year-old dog behind.

Their return to Mexico is filled with uncertainty. Mr. Soler said he doesn't know if he can get his old job back. He also has the operations and rehab coming up.

They're planning to live with his grandmother, at least initially. Mr. Soler's parents both died young, his dad in a car crash more than 30 years ago and his mother 20 years ago in a train accident, he said.

"I need to restart my life in Mexico."

Mr. MacLennan said he hopes the Soler family returns to Canada eventually, specifically to Stratford.

"These are the kind of people that we want to welcome to our society," he said.

People wish to donate can contact Mr. Ruiz at natanael_mateus ruiz@hpdscb.edu.on.ca or by calling 271-0890, ext. 1430.

Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers

Content types

Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse

Target groups

Public awareness

Geographical focuses

Ontario and México

Languages

English