Friday, November 8, 2019


By David Bacon
The Nation, 10/8/19

Los Angeles garment worker leader Christina Vasquez and members of her union UNITE denounce NAFTA for having caused the closure of the factory where they worked, 1994. (David Bacon)

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump pledged to get rid of NAFTA, and once in office he killed Barack Obama's Trans Pacific Partnership. Neither of those trade policies were worth mourning. But now he has produced a "renegotiated" NAFTA-the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA-whose purpose is the same as the original: to eliminate "rules that interfere with cross-border commercial activity" and "to craft laws that facilitate these activities," according to the Canadian union, UNIFOR. In other words, the purpose of the new agreement is to provide profit-making opportunities for large corporations-the same purpose that led to the disastrous impact of the old one.

Pressuring Trump's trade negotiators will not produce a trade agreement that will help workers on either side of the border, as a quarter century of experience with NAFTA demonstrates. That trade agreement unleashed economic changes in Mexico that increased poverty and displaced people on a massive scale. At the same time it was useless in protecting union rights, especially in the US. I've spent the last two and a half decades documenting the devastation that NAFTA has wrought for Mexico's workers, and I've seen the vigorous resistance that US and Mexican workers have put up against its ravages.

At the time the original NAFTA was implemented in 1994, supporters claimed the deal would raise incomes in Mexico and would slow migration from Mexico to the US. By 2005, however, the World Bank found that extreme rural poverty jumped from 35% to 55% within four years after NAFTA took effect. By 2010, 53 million Mexicans were living in poverty. In the 20 years after NAFTA went into effect, the buying power of Mexican wages dropped-the minimum wage's buying power plummeted by a staggering 24%.

In NAFTA's first year, one million Mexicans lost their jobs. According to Jeff Faux, founding director of the Economic Policy Institute, "the peso crash of December, 1994, was directly connected to NAFTA." Yellow corn grown by Mexican farmers then had to compete with corn from huge US producers, subsidized by the US farm bill. Corn imports into Mexico rose from 2 million to over 10 million tons, driving 2.5 million Mexican farmers and farm workers off their land.

"Here, if you have no money, the government won't enforce the law. We really have very good laws in Mexico, but a very bad government." Veronica Vasquez spoke these words in the middle of a dusty street in Tijuana, in the workers' march on May Day. 1996 (David Bacon)

In 1990, 4.5 million Mexican migrants had come to the US. In 2008 that number peaked at 12.67 million. About 9% of all Mexicans now live in the US. This displacement and forced migration was a direct consequence of the economic damage the treaty dealt to Mexico's economy. Timothy Wise, Senior Research Fellow at Tufts University, says "The real assault was NAFTA, along with the neoliberal economic policies adopted by the Mexican government of which NAFTA was an integral part."

Besides the economic immiseration of two generations of Mexican workers, the original NAFTA also failed at one of its other purported goals, to improve working conditions for workers across North America. Both the old and the new agreements require the US, Canada and Mexico to enforce their own labor laws. But for over a quarter century NAFTA abjectly failed to do this. Mexico's laws guarantee workers the right to form independent unions, but throughout NAFTA's reign workers' attempts to organize were met with firings, beatings and broken strikes. NAFTA's labor side agreement failed to reinstate even a single fired worker or force the signing of a single union contract.

After two decades of pressure from progressive Mexican unions, Mexico has finally passed a law strengthening the rights of Mexican workers in their unions and workplaces. Many unions here in the US supported the long effort to win those reforms. Liberal Democrats and the AFL-CIO now call on Mexico's new government to implement this new labor law reform as a condition for supporting the new NAFTA.

Members of Tijuana's SWAT team, the Special Forces, march beside the Han Young factory, as they prepare to illegally reopen the plant and bring in strikebreakers in 1998. Workers in the plant had organized an independent union and gone on strike. 1998  (David Bacon)

Strong unions and high wages benefit workers in both countries. The USMCA supposedly will require Mexico to enforce the new reforms more rigorously. Mexican workers will indeed benefit if they are enforced, but the track record of the old NAFTA is clear. Even if the USMCA requires Mexico to obey its own labor laws, freeing US corporations to invest and operate in Mexico will have the same disastrous consequences the old agreement produced. And unmentioned in the current debate is the failure of NAFTA to require enforcement of US labor laws.

In the US the National Labor Relations Board has failed to aggressively enforce the National Labor Relations Act or significantly curb a whole industry of illegal union-busting. As gig and contingent employment mushrooms, many workers now can't even legally picket their real boss. Farm and domestic workers were written out of US labor law entirely in the 1930s because of overt racial bias in Congress, and still are.

Federal workers won the legal right to organize, which President Trump now threatens to revoke. Fierce attacks against public workers' hard-won union rights are the new normal. More and more states pass "right to work" laws, made legal by the same Cold War Taft-Hartley Act that prohibits effective labor action, like effective secondary boycotts and mass picket lines.

It's therefore notable that there is no special section of the new USMCA that requires the US to reform its labor laws in the same way it requires Mexico to do so, and liberal Democrats and the AFL-CIO don't even suggest it. Their silence shows eloquently that they don't even expect the trade agreement process to enforce US workers' rights.

Putting all the onus on Mexican enforcement is not only one-sided, but promotes the idea that Mexican workers are a danger to the jobs of US workers, rather than the lack of labor rights here at home. President Trump has used the USMCA negotiations to whip up nationalistic fervor against Mexico, saying his trade agreement will protect American jobs, while history shows clearly that it will not. And his anti-Mexico nationalism, calculated to win votes in 2020, nevertheless obscures his attacks on workers here at home.

AFL-CIO President Trumka has said, "We are working to try to get an agreement worthy of the American economy and the American worker." Such an agreement, however, should prohibit investment decisions that increase poverty across North America, rather than accepting poverty and displacement as unfortunate byproducts of trade. It could mandate works councils to give unions power over company investment decisions, guarantee labor rights across borders, and even demilitarize the US-Mexico border itself.

Sara Steffens-after being fired from her job as a reporter for heading the union organizing drive at the Contra Costa Times-called for passage of labor law reform in the US. Today Steffens is Secretary-Treasurer of the Communications Workers of America. 2009 (David Bacon)

Instead of tinkering with a new NAFTA, Congressional left-wingers should put an agreement like this on the table, and unions should step up concrete action to defend workers' rights in both countries. Solidarity with unions fighting in Mexico is a much more effective strategy than pressuring Trump trade negotiators.

The fact remains that workers in this country have a common interest with workers south of the border. NAFTA 2.0 will not improve their lives and does not deserve working class support.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Photographs by David Bacon

In two demonstrations last week people in the Bay Area stood up to defend immigrant members of our community. 

In Berkeley on October 14, Mayor Jesse Arreguin and other community leaders announced that the City of Berkeley was passing a resolution calling on Congress to act to presesrve Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for refugees and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, for young people brought to the U.S. without papers as children.  If action is not taken, over a million people will lose work authorization and the legal ability to remain in this country.

May people spoke out at the rally across the street from Berkeley's old City Hall.  They included young people like Crista Ramos and Kruz Morales.  Other immigrants like Cristina Morales and Rose Carranza represented the TPS Committee for Permanent Residency Now! and East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, and were supported by Pierre Labossiere of the Haiti Action Committee and Ramon Cardona of Centro Latino Cuscatlan.  Berkeley's poet laurate Rafael Jesus Gonzalez read poetry.

On Friday, October 11, the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity organized a vigil in front of the ICE office in San Francisco, calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to pardon to men so that they will not be deported, and can remain with their families in the U.S.

Charles Joseph is facing transfer to ICE custody upon release from prison. When he was younger, Charles Joseph's father was incarcerated and deported. Joseph is a member of musician Lew Fratis' musical development and performance program at the California State Prison, Solano.  His mother, Alumita Siva, and his lawyer, Francisco Ugarte, spoke to the rally.

Saman Pho, a 43-year-old father of four from Oakland, a construction worker and Teamster Union member, was taken into custody when he reported to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement on Sansome Street.  His sister Monica Sok spoke out for him.

On the sidewalk people dug into their pockets and raised the bail money needed for a young person who was being freed from custody, but then being turned over to immigration authorities for deportation.

Sunday, October 6, 2019


By David Bacon
Capital and Main, October 4, 2019

OXNARD, CA - The family of Lino Reyes are Mixtec migrants from San Martin Peras in Oaxaca.  He and his wife work in the strawberry fields, and live in the garage of a house on the outskirts of town.

In California many farmworkers can't find decent places to live, or even any place at all. When the grape harvest starts in Coachella Valley, families of pickers bed down in the Mecca supermarket parking lot. In Sonoma County wine country, workers live outdoors and under bridges.

To alleviate this crisis, Hollister Assembly member Robert Rivas authored AB 1783,  which aims to help create more housing for resident farmworker families, and keep them from being displaced by H-2A contract workers. It passed the Assembly and Senate by large majorities, and now awaits Governor Newsom's signature.

MECCA, CA - Rafael and his grandson Ricardo Lopez work picking grapes in the Coachella Valley.  They come from San Luis, Arizona, and live in their van in a parking lot in Mecca during the harvest.  Ricardo says, "This is how I envisioned it would be working here with my grandpa and sleeping in the van.  But it would be better if they put up apartments for us to live in.  It's hot at night, and hard to sleep.  There are a lot of mosquitoes, and the big lights are on all night.  There are very few services here, and the bathrooms are very dirty. At night there are a lot of people here, coming and going.  You never know what can happen, it's a bit dangerous.  But my grandfather has a lot of experience and knows how to handle himself."

In 2016 growers brought 11,106 workers to California under the H-2A guest worker program. Last year they brought 18,908-up 70 percent from two years earlier. Growers say heavy immigration enforcement at the border has created a labor shortage, and they need guest workers to get crops harvested.

Critics of the program say it creates a workforce vulnerable to abuse. H-2A workers can work only for the duration of a contract lasting less than a year, after which they must return to their home country. While in the U.S. they're tied to the grower who recruits them. If workers protest mistreatment and are fired, they must leave the country.

The H-2A program does, however, require growers to furnish housing, but in rural California that's hard to find. With the number of H-2A guest workers mushrooming, labor contractors and growers are packing them into motels and houses in working class neighborhoods. Last year Future Ag Management was fined $168,082 for providing housing in Salinas for 22 people, an arrangement that had them sharing one shower and a bathroom infested with insects.

ROYAL CITY, WA - An H2A contract worker in the room he shares with three other workers in the barracks where they live in central Washington. Workers live in the barracks and work several months, but must return to Mexico after the work contract is finished. 

Even for the inadequate housing that does exist, competition is growing between local farmworkers, on the one hand, and growers intent on housing H-2A guest workers on the other. In response many communities are seeking to restrict the use of motels and the existing housing stock.

Soledad, in the Salinas Valley, put a moratorium on H-2A housing last September, after the local Motel 8 was converted into living quarters for contract workers. At the same time, residents complained that they were evicted from a rental complex when owners found it preferable to rent the apartments to H-2A contractors. Soledad school superintendent Tim Vanoli told a community forum, "When you displace families that are currently in our school system, that's a disruption to them, their lives and to their education."

In Santa Maria farmworker Francisco Lozano, a longtime community resident, said his rent for a two-bedroom apartment went from $1,000 to $1,300 in three years as growers outbid residents to house the 800 workers they brought into the valley. According to University of California, Davis agricultural economist Philip Martin, fair market rent for a two-bedroom house in Salinas is $1,400, while the current state minimum wage only produces $1,920 a month. According to Martin, one result is that a third of the children in the Salinas City School District are "technically homeless."

MECCA, CA - Enrique Saldivar, Leoncio Mendoza and Alfonso Leal come from Mexicali, on the US border 100 miles to the south, to pick grapes every year. At the height of the harvest they eat and sleep next to their car in the parking lot of a market in Mecca.

California set up the Joe Serna Jr. Farmworker Housing Grant Program in 2010 to provide subsidies for building farmworker housing, and in 2018 voters passed Proposition 1, which allocated $300 million to fund it. AB 1783 would set regulations over how this money can be used.

The bill has two parts. The first creates a streamlined process for subsidizing growers who build farmworker housing on their land. It would have to be administered by a qualified affordable housing organization, and units must remain affordable to farmworkers for 35 years. The second part of the bill bars "dormitory housing"-the kind typically used for H-2A workers. The legislature's bill analysis states it "does not preclude utilization of the H-2A program or the development of housing for H-2A visa-holders. However, it does make such housing ineligible for state funding for its planning, development, or operation of such housing."

Proponents of the restriction cite the experience in Washington State, where the Department of Commerce ruled that state subsidies for farmworker housing could be used by growers to build barracks for H-2A workers. Since housing is a significant cost for growers who use the program, the subsidy has been a factor in the explosive growth of the program there, where H-2A workers now make up a third of Washington's farm labor workforce.

"The community block grant program is designed to help alleviate poverty, not provide corporate subsidies, especially for Big Ag," said Rivas at a committee hearing on AB 1783. He argues that the bill "phases out state support of the federal H-2A program. These types of programs - such as the Bracero programs, which aimed to secure a temporary agricultural workforce - have historically limited farmworker rights and been criticized for abuse." The Bracero Program, which lasted from 1942 to 1964, was abolished under pressure from the growing Chicano civil rights movement. As in the H-2A program, people from Mexico were recruited to work under temporary contracts in U.S. fields. The program became notorious both for abuse of the migrants and for displacing farmworkers living in the U.S.

SANTA ROSA, CA - Juan, a Chinanteco migrant farm worker from Oaxaca, makes a fire in front of the where indigenous migrants sleep under the trees in Sonoma County.

The Western Growers Association calls AB 1783 "nonsensical." Growers object to having housing on their land managed by outside organizations, especially for 35 years. Proponents counter that giving growers the ability to evict workers invites retaliation against those who might complain about poor housing or working conditions.

But the restriction on the use of housing subsidies for H-2A housing meets even sharper opposition. Matthew Allen, who directs legislative affairs for the WGA, told a committee hearing, "It basically ties our hands on the state level." Taylor Roschen, legislative director for the California Farm Bureau Federation, added, "It seems antithetical if we have a bill that restricts how we spend that money, if the investment is for affordable housing for all," presumably including grower barracks for H-2A workers.

"We've had a hundred years of labor camps in California," responds Giev Kashkooli, legislative director for the United Farm Workers, which strongly supports the bill. "Building housing for families should get what funding the state can provide. This is really about the future of farmworker families. We want a food system that allows them to survive and find housing and lead a dignified life."

Thirty five county farm bureaus and trade groups for pistachio, strawberry and other crops are lined up to oppose AB 1783. But Kashkooli says that rural towns and cities themselves are lobbying for it, as they see the growing impact of the housing crisis and the H-2A program.

AB 1783 is yet more evidence of shifting demographics in California politics. The increased number of Latino legislators in Sacramento, especially from farmworker families, created the political basis for passing new overtime and heat standards for field laborers. AB 1783's author, Robert Rivas, is the son and grandson of farmworkers.

The governor has until October 13 to sign the bill.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

VIGAN'S PUBLIC MARKET - The Commons in the Hands of Farmers and the Poor

VIGAN'S PUBLIC MARKET - The Commons in the Hands of Farmers and the Poor
Photographs by David Bacon
Food First, 9-26-19

In the last two or three decades, the food sovreignty movement has been reinventing an institution - the farmers' market - that has been an institution in much of the rest of the world for centuries.  Public markets, where local farmers and other small vendors sell to people without much money, are institutions that not only serve an important social purpose, but are structures set up by governments in response to popular need and pressure.  That makes them part of the public space that people often have to struggle to protect.

Emil de Guzman, a Filipino-American activist from San Francisco, describes the role of the public market in Philippine towns:  :In the Philippines at the heart of any city or town is a plaza. At the center of all activity is the palengke, a huge one story structure housing the local vendors, shopkeepers, small businesses under one roof, in compartmentalized units buying and selling goods and services.

"The palengke is purposely sectioned to accommodate vendors standing side by side selling the same products: butchers selling meat, sellers of fresh fish and seafoods, rows of newly harvested vegetables. All over the coconuts vendors are sectioned off nearby other stalls selling the garlic and onions, then tofu, then eggs, then mangos, papayas etc. dried fish. Then nearby sections on clothes, cosmetics, umbrellas and the list goes on. Thousands come to the palengke to shop and buy/bargain at the lowest prices."

Vigan's public market is just the latest iteration of the city's history as a trading and market center, going back centuries.  Vigan is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines, and was founded by Chinese traders long before the arrival of the Spaniards.  In the language of these migrants from Fujian Province, the name Bi-gan meant Beautiful Shore. 

In Vigan they traded gold and beeswax from the Cordilleras, the mountain range that forms the spine of Luzon, for Chinese porcelain and other goods.  The status of the Chinese ethnic minority in the Philippines is still controversial.  The Chinese community even established a museum in Manila, arguing that their presence was a crucial part of Philippine history and that Chinese workers helped build the country over centuries.

The Spaniards colonized the islands, capturing Vigan in 1572, and making it the administrative capital of northern Luzon, called Nueva Segovia.  By then a central market here was long established.  It provided a critical function for farmers, who brought food into the city, and for the city dwellers who depended on them.  All over the world similar markets have come into being to fulfill the same function.

The current public market was rebuilt in the years after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.  Despite all the changes in how food and clothing are distributed and sold in a modern city, the market is still a destination for thousands of people.  It's prices are lower than most other places, and the experience of buying something is much more personal.  In the interactions between stall owners and their customers, it's clear that in many cases people have known each other for years.

I've always loved out farmers' markets, especially ones like those in Oakland where older Chinese women crowd the stalls, attracted by this market's lower prices.  I've often wondered whether this institution will still be with us in another 20 or 30 years.  Walking through the public markets of the Philippines, I can see a way that people have been able to institutionalize markets like it, keeping its people-serving purpose intact.  Looking at these photographs, I can see a little of what might be Oakland's future here in Vigan.

For a full selection of photos, click here:

An old man and a boy in the window of a colonial building in the old mestizo, or Chinese, section of Vigan.

A banana stall usually has several varieties.

Selling pots and other kitchen wares, often to farm families from the countryside.

A girl in a world of her own.

Stall holders eat lunch and make their calls.

Buying groceries.

Many stalls in the market serve cheap meals.

A woman sells rambutans from a table in the hallway of the market.

Children of the stall owners often work there with their families.

Farmers and stall owners have to get up early to arrive when the market opens, and then fall asleep during the day.

Catching sleep during a lull in the market.

Some customers know the stall holders very well, like at this stall selling rambutans.

Relaxing behind bags of beans and tamarindos.

A farmer unpacking bags of calamansi fruit.

Kids in the market hallway playing a game where they guess at the cards and then slam them down on the floor.

Rice is the staple of the Philippines, and is grown and sold in a number of varieties.

A girl with her mom at the rice stall.

Near the market is an outdoor food court, where these high school girls have come to eat and take selfies.

An old truck at the side of the market.  Like many it was built in the style of WW2 jeeps.

A driver waits outside the market to pick up a fare in his tricycle, the most common kind of public transport in Vigan.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

MORE THAN A WALL: 30 Years of Life Along the US-Mexico Border

MORE THAN A WALL: 30 Years of Life Along the US-Mexico Border
Photos and text by David Bacon
The Nation

Mexicali, Baja California - 1996
A worker is deported back into Mexico at the border gate, from a bus that has taken deportees from the detention center in El Centro in the Imperial Valley, on the other side of the fence.

Editors' note: "If it happened yesterday, we've already forgotten." -  an anonymous Nation editor.

What we see and react to in the media conditions us to view the present as a series of immediate crises, and to ignore their roots in the past.  For social justice movements, this can be deadly, cutting us off from an ability to weigh and learn from our own history, and to understand how that history shapes the ways we fight for justice today.

In this photo essay, David Bacon reaches into his photographic archive of 30 years, which are now part of the Special Collections of Stanford University's Green Library.  A Nation contributor and former union organizer, Bacon's photographs and journalism have documented the courage of people struggling for social and economic justice in countries around the world.


In 1971, Pat Nixon, wife of Republican President Richard Nixon, inaugurated Border Field State Park, where the border meets the Pacific Ocean just south of San Diego.  The day she visited, she asked the Border Patrol to cut the barbed wire so she could greet the Mexicans who'd come to see her.  She told them, "I hope there won't be a fence here too much longer." 

Instead, a real fence was built in the early 1990s, made of metal sheets taken from decommissioned aircraft carrier landing platforms.  The sheets had holes, so anyone could peek through to the other side.  But for the first time, people coming from each side could no longer physically mix together or hug each other.  This is how the wall looked when I began photographing it, over 30 years ago.

That old wall still exists in a few places on the Mexican side in Tijuana and elsewhere.  But Operation Gatekeeper, the Clinton Administration border enforcement program, sought to push border crossers out of urban areas like San Ysidro, into remote desert regions where crossing was much more difficult and dangerous.  To do that, the government had contractors build a series of walls that were harder to cross. 

That's partly how the US-Mexico border became more than mere geography-how it became instead a passage of fire, an ordeal that must be survived in order to send money from work in the US back to a hungry family, to find children and relatives from whom they have been separated by earlier journeys, or to flee an environment that has become too dangerous to bear.

Some do not survive, dying as they try to cross the desert or swim the Rio Bravo. To them the border region has become a land of death.  Every year at least 3-400 people die trying to cross, and are buried, often without names, in places like the graveyard in Holtville, in the Imperial Valley. 

But the photographs I've taken over 30 years also show that the US/Mexico border is a land of the living.  Millions of people live and work on Mexico's side of the border: There are the child laborers who pick the tomatoes and strawberries in Mexicali Valley that line the shelves of grocery stores in the US; there are the workers from across Mexico who staff the massive maquiladoras in Tijuana; And there are thousands who have been deported to Mexico, and who must now somehow survive this passage of fire as well.

I saw my first immigration raid long before I became a photographer.  I was an organizer for the United Farm Workers in the Coachella Valley.  One morning I drove out to a grove of date palms to talk with the palmeros working high in the trees.  As I pulled my old white Valiant (the only kind of car the union had) down a row between the palms, I saw a green Border Patrol van.  The workers I'd talked with the night before in the union hall were all staring at the ground, handcuffed behind their backs.

I felt helpless to stop the inexorable process.  I chased the van to the holding center in El Centro, two hours drive south, but then stood outside the barbed wire.  I asked myself what would happen to those deported and what I could do to help the families left behind. 

When I began working as a writer and photographer, I tried to use my camera to find answers to those questions.  I carry the camera as a tool to help stop the abuse, and to take photographs that will help people organize.  The photographs, therefore, try to give personality and presence to deportees and their families, and to those who support them. 

So that's where I began, with the knowledge that the border is not some region of docile subsistence, but one of struggle and resistance. Workers in Tijuana's maquiladoras have organized their unions, and their strikes continue to shake the factories along the border. The laborers in Mexico's San Quentin Valley, in a historic strike in 2015, formed the first independent union for farm workers in Mexico's border region. Deportees, returning to the country after their time in the US-whether mere days or most of a lifetime-have organized to make survival easier, and ultimately to protest the system that forced them over the border. In one example, the group Border Angels helped migrants take over the Migrant Hotel in Mexicali to give shelter and food to people as they're forced back through the border gate. Even the park next to the Tijuana River became a protest site, as homeless migrants and deportees joined city activists to stop its privatization, at the same time as they lived on the site in an Occupy-style protest. 

At every point along the border where there is hardship, there is also resilience, and strength, and a willingness to fight to not just survive but to thrive.

Today, Border Field State Park looks quite a bit different than it did that day Pat Nixon shook hands across the barbwire. The aircraft landing strips were replaced in 2007 by an 18-foot wall of vertical metal columns. Two years later, a second wall was built on the US side, right behind the first. The area between them became a security zone where the Border Patrol restricts access to just four hours on Saturday and Sunday. The metal columns now extend into the Pacific surf.

Playas de Tijuana, though, on the Mexican side of the wall, is the city's beach suburb.  There the wall is just a sight to see for the hundreds of people who come out to the sand on the weekend.  The seafood restaurants are jammed, and sunbathers set up their umbrellas near the surf.  Occasionally, a curious visitor will walk up and look through the bars into the US.

I don't know what will come next for the borderlands-if Trump will get his way and spend billions to extend the wall across more of the border, if Border Patrol patrols will force migrants to seek out even more inhospitable routes, if a "renegotiated" NAFTA will continue the exploitation of Mexican laborers for US profits-but I will continue to document this land of the living as long as I'm able. 

Tijuana, Baja California - 2017
Juan Manuel Barragan was recently deported from the U.S., where he has a wife and two teenage children in Las Vegas.  He carries the small suitcase with his clothes and belongings into the river channel where he sleeps.

Tijuana, Baja California - 2014
Many deportees have no way to return to their hometowns further south in Mexico, and become homeless.  Some set up a camp in the riverbed of the Tijuana River, in downtown Tijuana, not far from the U.S. Mexico border.  Sometimes camps like this get dispersed by authorities, but eventually people return, having nowhere else to go.

Tijuana, Baja California - 2014
Juan Guerra, a Zapotec deportee, cooks dinner under a bridge next to the Tijuana River, as pedestrians and cars travel above him.

Tijuana, Baja California - 2017
A homeless man walks up the flood channel of the Tijuana River, which runs through the middle of the city toward the Pacific Ocean.  The river eventually crosses the border into the U.S.   People recently deported from the U.S. often live in camps in the river channel.

Maclovio Rojas, Tijuana, Baja California - 1996
At the entrance into Maclovio Rojas community a sign declares that it is a civil organization and union of small landholders, affiliated with CIOAC.  In the 1970s CIOAC was organized by the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) and other leftwing activists to help small farmers and the rural poor to defend their rights to land.  By 1996 the PCM no longer existed, but in Baja California its activists maintained a local CIOAC organizaion to help migrant workers organize, settle and build homes.

Mexicali Valley, Baja California - 1996
Honorina Ruiz, 6 years old, ties bunches of green onions together in a field just south of the U.S. border, farmed by Muranaka Farms, a U.S. grower.  Her mother Esperanza Ruiz and her brothers Rigoberto, 12, and Juan Antonio, 3, work with her, and they all came from the nearby colonia of Nicolas Bravo.  Honorina sat in front of a pile of green onions.  She grabbed some from the top to make a bunch, lining up eight or nine onions, straightening out their roots and tails.  Then she knocked the dirt off, put a rubber band around them, and added the bunch to those already in the box beside her.

Mexicali Valley, Baja California - 1996
Young mothers have no child care, so they bring their children to work with them.

Mexicali Valley, Baja California - 1996
Mari, her mother and sister in their house, which unlike many others in their barrio, has a concrete floor.

Nuevo San Juan Copala, Baja California - 2015
Striking farm workers in the San Quintin Valley in Baja California demonstrate their support for their independent association, The Alianza, as leaders try to negotiate wage increases with the government.  The workers are almost all indigenous Mixtec and Triqui migrants from Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.  Indigenous women and men wait to hear the results.

San Quintin, Baja California - 2015
A boy goes in to work in a field of strawberries with his father, after the end of the 2015 strike.  Wages were still so low that families depended on those earned by children and teenagers to survive.

Tijuana, Baja California - 2015
A bus filled with striking farm workers from the San Quintin Valley of Baja California on the way to the U.S./Mexico border to protest.  Their sign in the window says:  "Wage Raise!"

Mexicali, Baja California - 2010
The Hotel Migrante is an old, abandoned hotel next to the border in Mexicali.  It used to be called the Hotel Centenario, and had a sports bar on the ground floor.  Viviana "Chiques" Cervantes lived at the hotel for several months - otherwise she would have been sleeping in the street.  The sign on the wall warns migrants "Don't Visit Arizona" because of the state's anti-immigrant laws.

Mexicali, Baja California - 2010
A deportee tries to sleep after being deported the previous night.  The Border Patrol puts many people across the border in the hours just after midnight, when no stores or restaurants are open, or taxis or other services available to provide shelter, food or transport.  Volunteers from the Hotel Migrante meet them at the gate on the Mexican side, and take them back to a room where they can sleep.

Nogales, Sonora - 2014
Recently deported people eat and get help at the dining hall run by the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, near the border wall between Mexico and the U.S.

Tijuana, Baja California - 2014
Luisa, a homeless woman who was deported from the U.S. many years ago, collects cans and plastic from garbage dumpsters, near the Tijuana River in downtown Tijuana, near the U.S. Mexico border.  Regardless of the side of the border on which they live, collecting plastic and cans for recycling is a way people like Luisa, with no money or resources, can eat and survive.

Tijuana, Baja California - 1993
A young worker pulls plastic parts from a plastic molding machine which will be assembled into coathangers for the garment industry, in the maquiladora of Plasticos Bajacal.  Workers tried unsuccessfully to organize an independent, democratic union there in 1993.

Derecho Humanos Barrio, Matamoros, Tamaulipas - 2006
A boy jumps across a rickety bridge over a polluted canal near the U.S. border.  The canal, which is contaminated by toxic chemicals dumped by factories, runs by homes.  Residents, almost all migrants from Oaxaca and southern Mexico,  built the bridge to get from one part of the neighborhood to another.

Tijuana, Baja California - 1996
Francisco Ortiz worked at Ken-Mex, a medical products plant built in Tijuana in the 1980s by Kendall International.  He shared a small house, in a neighborhood below Otay Mesa, with three sons, who lived with him in the front room, with his uncle, his wife and children, and with his mother and grandmother.  One way they shared space was by working different shifts.  Francisco worked during the evening, until 2 a.m.  One son worked days, and another other grave.  Lack of space led them to put their stove on cinderblocks next to the bed where they slept, creating the dangerous possibility that blankets could catch fire.

Blanca Navidad, Tamaulipas - 2006
The extended family of a maquiladora worker. In 2006 the People of the Blanca Navidad community were brutally evicted, when Nuevo Laredo's mayor sent in tractors to demolish their houses; many houses were burned leaving women and children with nothing. El MaƱana newspaper exposed the local government and supported the community in their struggle for their land.  A few days later the newspaper was bombed and a reporter was seriously injured. Those responsible for the bombing were never found.

Blanca Navidad, Tamaulipas - 2006
Community leader Blanca Enriquez in the community garden of Blanca Navidad, which was settled by migrants from southern Mexico, looking for land to build a place to live.  Most work in the maquiladoras of Nuevo Laredo.   Before building the garden and a community health center, she said, "we had nothing.  When the government tried to evict us all we had left were tarps and poles, and a few blankets.  The majority of us in this colonia work in the maquiladoras, but regardless of where we work we are from this community, and we all are equal."

Tijuana, Baja California - 2017
Adriana Arzola, her sister and her baby Nayeli Santana talk with her family living in the U.S. through the bars of the wall.  On the U.S. side, her family has to stay several feet away from the wall, so they can't touch each other through the bars.

Tijuana, Baja California - 2016
On the Mexican side of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S. Hector Barajas and veterans of U.S. military service who have been deported gather to protest, and to remember those who died.  Their names are written on the bars of the wall.  This takes place every Sunday at the Parque de Amistad, or Friendship Park, in Playas de Tijuana.

Tijuana, Baja California - 1996
A worker looks over the fence between Mexico and the U.S., trying to find a moment when the Border Patrol may not be looking so that he can go through the hole under it and cross.  A Nahuatl legend says that when people go to the underworld, a dog guides them.

Tijuana, Baja California - 2016
On the Mexican side of the border a man stares through the bars into the U.S.

Tijuana, Baja California - 2000
An individual memorial left by a family, remembering someone who died at this place along the wall.

Holtville, Imperial Valley, California - 2010
Migrants found dead on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, in the area of the Imperial Valley and Colorado River, are buried in a potters field graveyard in Holtville.  The identities of many are not known, and are buried as "John Doe" or "Jane Doe."  Immigrant rights and religious activists have made crosses for many of the graves of migrants, most of which say "No Olvidados" or "Not Forgotten."  About 450 bodies were buried here as of 2010.

Tijuana, Baja California - 2017
On the Mexican side of the border wall between Mexico and the U.S. families greet other family members on the U.S. side.  This takes place every Sunday at the Parque de Amistad, or Friendship Park, in Playas de Tijuana, the neighborhood of Tijuana where the wall runs into the Pacific Ocean.  Catelina Cespedes, Carlos Alcaide and Teodolo Torres came from Santa Monica Cohetzala in Puebla to meet their family members on the other side of the wall.