Tensions rise as Latinos feel under siege in America’s deep south

The mobile home that Nancy Lugo and her two children live in might not seem like much to many people.

It sits off a dirt road, by a slow-moving creek, on the outskirts of the tiny Georgia town of Uvalda. It is surrounded by thick forest and fields full of the local speciality: Vidalia onions.

But for Lugo, 34, it is a symbol of a better life in America. Here in Georgia, far from her native Mexico, Lugo has a solid job, sends her kids to school and loves the rhythm of rural life. “It is peaceful. I am happy here,” she said.

The patch of land she bought for her trailer was vacant before she came. But she dug a well and sank septic tanks, carving a home from the wilderness in a grand American tradition. She got a job. She paid her taxes.

Now it is all under threat.

For Lugo is an illegal immigrant in the deep south. In the midst of general anti-immigrant sentiment, several southern states have passed strict anti-illegal immigrant laws that critics say raises the prospect of a new Jim Crow era – the time when segregation was law

Local farms in labor bind

In 2008, there were 202 requests (more than twice the number of requests in 2006 and 2007), and 137 of those were approved.

Across the nation in 2009, 5,177 workers entered the U.S. under the

H-2A program, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The problem is supply versus demand.

“If Hawaii is going to increase its agricultural sector, somebody’s gonna have to do the work in the fields,” said Mae Nakahata, president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, which represents 1,600 members in the local agricultural industry. “A lot of the local people don’t want to do that type of work, so where is that labor going to come from?”

Nakahata said many farms are tiny, family operations that can’t handle the workload by themselves.

“A lot of our farmers are dependent on second and third parties to get their labor because they’re not large companies,” Nakahata said. “They depend on the contractor, and that the contractor is doing its job correctly.”

Many local farms relied on Global Horizons Manpower Inc., a Los Angeles-based recruiting contractor whose president and associates are now accused in what’s been called the largest human trafficking scheme ever prosecuted in the U.S.

Federal investigators allege that Global Horizons, headed by Mordechai Orian, hired Thai workers under false promises of high wages, but later revoked their traveling documents and violated their rights.

The Global Horizons case involves about 400 farmers who passed through Hawaii from May 2004 through September 2005. The case includes 14 farms around the state, including Maui Pineapple Farms, Aloun Farms, Del Monte Hawaii and the Kauai Coffee Co.

None of the farms is being accused of wrongdoing in the case. Aloun Farms’ owners face trial in a separate case involving 44 Thai workers who claim to have been abused.

“Local farms are in a tough situation now,” said Nakahata. “How do you evaluate whether the contract you’re going for is legitimate?

Read today’s letters to the editor: Immigration | The News-Press

Re: "Follow Hawaii," Diane L. Trembly, June 1. Ms. Trembly writes that she lived and was employed in Hawaii for 25 years and Hawaiian employers require two proofs of citizenship for every job applicant and she asks why the other 49 states can’t do the same thing. Actually, non-U.S. citizens with legitimate "green cards" and Social Security numbers are legal workers.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 requires all employers, without exception, to have "all" job applicants (U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens) complete Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. The purpose of this form is to document that each new employee hired after Nov. 6, 1986, is authorized to work in the U.S.