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Migrant Labor Center Is Stopover For Farm Workers

August 11, 1986

HOPE, Ark. (AP) _ Ismael Flores paid the standard $2 rent, then quickly wheeled his red pickup truck to Trailer 16 at the Hope Migrant Labor Center, which gives migrant workers a place to sleep between jobs.

Flores, who makes the federal minimum wage of $3.35 per hour, would make this stopover at the center be short to get to Michigan’s lettuce harvest. He had already driven 14 hours non-stop from Weslaco, Texas.

Flores’ wife, Sanjuana, opened the door to Trailer 16 and their three children trooped inside, where a window air conditioner pumped cool relief.

After unloading necessities, Flores, 34, and his two sons walked to the center’s cinder-block bathhouse. Mrs. Flores, 38, started supper on an outdoor grill with the help of daughter Felicitas, 14.

As many as 3,700 migrants per week register at the center, which opened several years ago. The majority are Mexican-Americans, and more than 98 percent are American citizens, said center director Pete Reigler.

″People look on the migrant seasonal farm worker as grubby, dirty, uneducated, can’t do anything else. But they’re not. They’re a proud people,″ Reigler said. ″The reason they put the $2 charge on it was for their pride, so they wouldn’t feel they are getting charity.″

A Social Security number is required for citizens to register at the center, and a green card, or work permit, is required of aliens.

″When the migrant center first came here, there were a lot of skeptics,″ Reigler said. ″But the migrants spend a tremendous amount of money in Hope, at least $500,000 a year, and the townspeople do recognize that this is good for their community.″

It’s good for consumers across the country, too, Reigler said, explaining that migrants who work for the minimum wage help keep farm production costs low. The center is run by the state with funds from the U.S. Department of Labor.

There are migrant facilities elsewhere, Reigler said, but the Hope center is unique because it offers 24-hour lodging for migrants with little money.

″If they do not have the money, we have them sign an IOU,″ he said. ″You would be surprised at the number of people who come back in and give us the money.″

On a gravel parking lot, 45-year-old Ruth Rodriguez herded her three girls and two boys out of a blue truck.

″We only pay $4 for two trailers. It looks pretty good,″ she said in broken English. ″We just got here. We’ll shower and keep on going.″

E. Castanon, 56, heads a family of 14 who emerged from a van and a pickup, en route from Brownsville, Texas, to Standish, Mich.

″We’re going to work on a small farm,″ Castanon, a beefy man in a straw hat, said through a translator. ″We’re paid according to what we pick a day. It’s hard work. Sometimes it’s big money, sometimes not.″

Most migrants arrive at nightfall, and depart when a pre-dawn Missouri- Pacifi c whistle blasts from railroad tracks adjoining the center, Reigler said.

″When they leave here, they are refreshed and they can go on,″ he said. ″They have a decent place to stay.″

″You call them migrant workers. We think of them as quality people.″

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