Former Guest Workers Make Progress in Effort to Recoup Lost Funds

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The decades old struggle by former Mexican guest workers to recoup pension funds appears to be coming to a close. The Mexican government recently decided to pay millions of dollars to former braceros living there and in the United States. A group of Southland braceros gathered in L.A. yesterday. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez was there.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: East L.A. resident Ramon Navarro Machuca still has his Alien Laborer's Identification Card issued in 1958. He's 21 years old in the black and white picture, with a full head of hair. The now well-worn card let him travel from his rural Mexican hometown to the cotton and lettuce fields of southern Arizona.

Ramon Machuca Navarro: Nos salian los cheques, por quincena de 67 dolares.

Guzman-Lopez: The pay was good, Machuca Navarro says, in spite of U.S. taxes and a 10 percent deduction for a Mexican pension fund. He and most braceros never saw those pensions. About two years ago, after fierce lobbying on both sides of the border, the Mexican government began paying braceros lump sums of about $4,000.

Last week, Mexico detailed how it'll give out the biggest sum yet, about $63 million. Activist Juan Jose Gutierrez, who helped the braceros on this side of the border, says about 40,000 live in California.

Juan Jose Gutierrez: We're very happy that after a long struggle that's already going on 44 years, the Mexican authorities have acknowledged their responsibility in providing fair compensation to the nearly five-million ex-braceros that, from 1942 to 1964, came to work in the United States.

Guzman-Lopez: Mexico has required braceros to go back to Mexico to collect their pensions. Mexico's consul general in Los Angeles, Juan Carlos Gutierrez, says his government is likely to let braceros submit paperwork at consulates in the U.S.

Juan Carlos Gutierrez: It's a matter of the most importance, we're talking about a social factor, and also a matter of social justice.

Guzman-Lopez: Time's running out, not because of any hard and fast deadline; many of the former guest workers have died in recent years.