A faint breeze wafts across the farm fields on a cool, early morning in May, bringing a sweet fragrance of watermelon, an earthy aroma of wet dirt, and the sharp smell of the sweat-drenched men.

There are four seven-man crews moving up and down Santiago Gonzalez's watermelon fields, bending over, lifting, and pitching the giant fruit sideways to each other and up into a semi-truck hauling two massive bins.

Photos by Jamie Peachey/New Times photo illustration
Santiago Gonzalez, farming since he was a child, surveys one of the fields that make up 3,330 acres of farmland that he and his family own in the West Valley.
Jamie Peachey
Santiago Gonzalez, farming since he was a child, surveys one of the fields that make up 3,330 acres of farmland that he and his family own in the West Valley.

Bending, lifting, pitching.

Bending, lifting, pitching.

Carlos Garcia and the other men in his crew gather the watermelons cut from their vines earlier in the morning by a group of expert cutters from Mexico, usually from the cities of Nogales or Sinaloa, who know when the watermelons have reached perfection. They learn the skills in their home countries, often in Mexico, at an early age.

Once cut, the watermelon rolls off the raised mound where it's been growing for about three months and settles in the rows of the field. Garcia and the others work quickly to preserve the quality of the fruit, which starts to soften under the rays of the blistering sun.

Garcia's jeans are damp with sweat, as is the bandanna draped over his neck for protection. He has been harvesting fruits and vegetables from Arizona farm fields for seven years, since he was 16 years old.

"I've picked lettuce, watermelon, onions," he tells New Times during a brief break.

A single food truck pulls up around 8:30 a.m. — about three hours into the workday — and Garcia and the other field hands flock to the metallic oasis. They line up for burritos, sodas, and bottles of water and sit in the dirt under the scant shade provided by desert bushes.

"We have to work," says Garcia, who is staying in a small apartment in Avondale, not too far from the watermelon fields. He shares the living space with a few other members in his crew.

The 23-year-old has lived in Arizona for seven years, moving around the state to pick produce.

"And this is not easy work. You don't see any Americans out here, and that's because it's not easy work. But we don't have a choice. My body gets used to it, but it still aches," he says. "The hardest part of the work is dealing with this heat."

The sun wrings sweat from the men's pores. As they move through the rows, some reach down and punch their fingers into discarded watermelons that have been split open by cutters who spot-check the fruit's ripeness. They scoop out chunks of the ripe-red seedless melon, dripping with juice, and bring it to their mouths as they scoop up and pitch the next melon.

Finding workers who are willing, and physically able, to perform such back-breaking work has been tough for farmers like Gonzalez, who plants and harvests crops on 3,300 acres of farmland near El Mirage, in the West Valley.

On a Wednesday morning in June, Gonzalez drives the bumpy dirt roads between the fields in a 1995 Ford truck, which already is pushing 400,000 miles. He is dressed in jeans and a plaid buttoned shirt, sleeves pushed up to his elbows. The 54-year-old spends most of his day in the field repairing equipment, operating irrigation systems, and ordering supplies on a BlackBerry he hasn't quite mastered.

The window is rolled all the way down, his arm rests on the door. His eyes scan the fields, and he spots a torn irrigation line squirting water. He calls a roving field worker to repair it. Later in the day, one of the trucks pulling the watermelon bins, each weighing several tons, gets stuck deep in the mud. He leaves his truck in the field and one of the workers gives him a ride back to the shop. He returns in the driver's seat of a powerful tractor. After about half an hour, he and the workers dislodge the truck, and the work continues.

Concern creases deep in his face as he surveys portions of his fields carpeted with shriveled vines and unripened exposed melons. An underground fungus activated by the season's extreme temperatures snuffed those plants. Gonzalez doused them with more than $100,000 worth of chemical remedies.

"We treated it five different times, and we just couldn't beat it," he says. "And when that happens, it really takes a toll on your yield."

He lost about half of the watermelons he planted on 400 acres of land. The loss doesn't just affect his bottom line, it also means less money for the workers, who typically get paid $10 per ton. That doesn't sound like much at all, but a good crew that works in synch — quickly pitching and catching the watermelons and loading them into the trailers — can earn about $150 a day per crew member.

On this morning, however, the Latino men who showed up for work grumble about the unusually barren rows. They talk about not finishing out the day, but Gonzalez agrees to pay them $9 per hour and that persuades them to stay.

Field workers know that, come late May, farmers are going to be looking for help to harvest watermelons. The work will go on for several weeks, and then it will be time to harvest onions and prepare the fields to plant more potatoes. They learn about the jobs through word of mouth, from their friends, seasoned field workers, or fellow day laborers waiting on street corners for jobs.

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137 comments
Federale
Federale

Cut off the welfare checks and today's unemployed will be Tom Joads, harvesting whatever in order to eat.

Camial
Camial

orale, white trash get to work, isn't what you mofo's wanted,, ""immigrants are coming to our country and steal our jobs"" now no immigrants,,,,,,,,,,,,,,GET TO WORK

Mind
Mind

If a federal living wage mandatory,then you'd see we don't need any foreigners in our country.NO WAGE SLAVERY!Fix your own damn society,you foreigner/scab!

Dumoudan
Dumoudan

Under Title 8 Section 1325 of the U.S. Code, "Improper Entry by Alien," any citizen of any country other than the United States who:

Enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers; or

Eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers; or

Attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact; has committed a federal crime.

Violations are punishable by criminal fines and imprisonment for up to six months. Repeat offenses can bring up to two years in prison. Additional civil fines may be imposed at the discretion of immigration judges, but civil fines do not negate the criminal sanctions or nature of the offense.

Trish
Trish

I do not think it as a mistake to remove illegal’s from America. What our labor problem is, America has grown lazy with allowing immigrants to work our farms and orchards. It has taken much away from local farmers and their communities by not teaching our children to work hard and learn the benefits from getting back to basics. If we put the 4H clubs back into school, and helped our local farmers, our economy and labor problems would soon turn for the best. It is not up to our government to provide us jobs, we can create community jobs and form community greenhouses and farms to sustain smaller communities and team with larger ones and share the growth. Support your community, get off your butt and help your neighbor. Soon money will be there to payout.

Goober
Goober

elect Ron Paul, he has the solutions that is best for all involved. Dems don't like him, Reps don't like him, find out why. Hint, he has them solutions.

Dumoudan
Dumoudan

If the 12,000,000 plus illegal immigrants had a political leaning towards the conservative republicans would the pro illegal immigrants group still help with amnesty? I don't think so.

Magnolia Cazares
Magnolia Cazares

It is just a matter of time till we see the effects of living in a prejudice society. Maybe when the lack of produce hits home and there pocket book they will see how big a mistake they made.

Dumoudan
Dumoudan

Who are we going to allow to cross the border illegally to do the jobs that Mexican illegal immigrants won't do?

Obama Whitehouse
Obama Whitehouse

The 12 million illegals didn't disappear. They just moved up to service industry jobs. Now I have to speak Spanish to order lunch.

Nutrax2005
Nutrax2005

Well now here is the big opportunity for unemployed U.S. citizens. What? Watermelons are to heavy and hard to work with? Oh. But I thought you wanted to work. Arizona needs you or it will fall to reality again. Don't want those immigrants filling in the space do you? Or should we just let the melons rot in the field and shame on the farmer for trying?

Enuf Istoomuch
Enuf Istoomuch

Secure The Border ! No More Deaths!

A Weak Border KILLS Migrant Workers!

STOP THE HYPOCRISY!

Gloriachia55
Gloriachia55

MAYBE if all the Mexican laborers were not working at Burger King, McDonalds, Walmart or other fast food place or store THERE would be more laborers to work in the fields. That just goes to show that the employers are NOT E VERYING people they hire. Even JC Penneys has undoucumented workers working for them, they can't even speak or understand English but there they are working in the store and when you ask them for assistance and THEY can't understand you, very quickly a english speaking person comes to their aid. Employers will not hire U.S. citizens but they are quick to hire UNDOCUMENTED Illens to work for them. I'm so sick and tired of see people appear on tv saying that there are not enought Mexican laborers to work in the fields....Here is a hint look for then at Jack in the Box, McDonalds,Burger King etc....

ragin
ragin

ignorance is bliss....let arizona starve in their blindness....

Americansaredumb
Americansaredumb

What a racist crock of shit this article is. Mexican labors. Please. What about polish or Irish laborers. You fucking beans think you are the only people who ever grew and picked their own food? Get real. If it weren't for the spainards fucking the whore native Indians you mexis wouldnt exist.

Listen, American idiots are used to picking crops because they are spoiled brats thanks to stupid parents and mainstream media. Every stupid kid nowadays knows nothing more than playstation, American idol and Justin bieber.

The parents need to turn that shit off and teach their kid how to make a life for themselves. The schools aren't going to teach them. Schools today are nothing more than indoctrination farms, creating herds of brain dead sheep.

I have nothing against mexicans wanting to come here for a better life, even though they are too coward to stay in Mexico and fight to make it a better place, but they need to come here LEGALLY. They need to pay taxes like my mother and father do, like my grandmother and grandfather did.

Taxes is what helped to build the USA strong. People migrating here LEGALLY and becoming US citizens.

These illegals today are not immigrants, they are invaders who sneak here, and then steal identities and leech off of taxpayers.

Boo fucking hoo about your shortage of mexi laborers. I'll grow and pick my own food. It will probably be far better than that shit the assho,e FDA passes too, what with all that gmo and cloned manufactured shit they are allowing people to eat.

Ps fuck the nwo. And fuck illegals. Illegal is not a race, it is a crime.

madcitizen
madcitizen

why is it always about picking crops. What about construction. GO to any construction site today and count how many white, black, or Asian Americans you will see. Not many because as a certified electrician I will not work for $12 an hour when I should be paid about 17-18 an hour but illegals will work for 12. So they get the job. With millions of Americans out of work I am all for any anti-illegal immigration laws. My kids will not grow up speaking Spanish that is for sure.

Bobby
Bobby

Correct. Imagine living in a country, where you have paid taxes, your parents have paid taxes, and possibly your grandparents and greatgrandparents. Then millions of foregin nationals, are allowed to take up residence, doing not only farming, but every type of service and blue collar job Americans used to do at a living wage. But the foregin nationals are doing the jobs cheaper and the democrat party,(party of the unions) supports them fully. Then, imagine that these corporations decide that since there are now millions of these foreign natioanls here, it would be better to hire people that speak their language. Well, that nation is now called the United States of America. What would Mexicans, in Mexico, for example, feel if this were happening in Mexico? Yet on this and many thousands of blogs sites in the U.S. the whole idea is thought to be "just fine."

Bobby
Bobby

The more interesting question is Why are their no Mexicans willing to do this. There isn't any shortage of them hanging around at the Home Depots, Construction outfits, nursuries roofing companies,etc.

Marcy
Marcy

The border can't be "secured", deaths can't be prevented but the more "secure" the border is the more migrant workers who die without a reasonable migrant worker guest program.

Marcy
Marcy

Employers aren't permitted to ask if you are a US citizen and the notion that "Employers will not hire US citizens" is absurd. If you are having trouble finding a job it has nothing to do with your citizenship.

BTW, just because someone is brown and speaks Spanish doesn't mean they are in the country illegally.

Bobby
Bobby

So excellently said, but it will fall on the deaf ears of most of those posting here. You see, that think everything's about picking vegetables in the hot sun. No it isn't. It's about merging the U.S. with one of the most corrupt nations in the world, Mexico, and forcing wages down to the bare minimum. That is exactly why JC Penneys, and every other company imaginable tries to use cheap bottom line illegal labor. The stupid fools on this blog don't care or possibly even realize, that Americans fought a long and bitter fight, a long time ago, to establish unions and good pay and some basic rights. Yet, all they talk about here are the rights of the "undocumented" that are being used to take away the rights of Americans. Clueless!

US War Veteran
US War Veteran

So if a person does not speak english they are illegal immigrants? WOW! INCREDIBLE!

I did not realized all those spouces brought to the US by service men and women from overseas that speak very little or no english were illegals; And those children born IN the United States and taken to other countries at an early age so they grow up learn another language and later want to return the the country they were born in as adults were also ILLEGALS!

WE NEED TO ROUND UP EVERY PERSON IN THIS COUNTRY THAT DOES NOT SPEAK ENGLISH AND DEPORT THEM NOW! THEY ARE ILLEGALS AND HAVE NO RIGHT TO BE HERE! DEPORT THEM! DEPORT THEM I TELL YOU!

/Sarcasum-off

prado4587
prado4587

So where are those Polish and Irish laborers? How do you think all those houses in Arizona got built during the housing boom? Stop demanding and consuming the goods and services produced by illegal aliens and/or increase the number of immigration visas for the workers that come/stay here illegally to produce the goods and services that we demand and consume.

adrian
adrian

Americansaredumb

You are really dumb, and you right we Mexicans may be invaders but it is not different from what your ancestor did DUMB.

Marcy
Marcy

Taxes are what helped build the USA strong?

Interesting, when do you think the Federal income tax came into existence? And do you really think that people who earn < $20K/yr pay income taxes?

Do you know what it took for the Irish and Poles to legally migrate to the US? They had to show up and sign their name. That's was it. Joe Arpaio's parents hopped on a tramp streamer without a visa or a passport or the prior permission of the United States and showed up in the US.

Illegal immigration isn't the problem you and your fellow uneducated red neck goobers want to pretend it is.

Bobby
Bobby

No one is dying in Mexico, and if they are it hasn't the slightest thing to do with the average American citizen who has to put up with millions of foreign nationals commiting every type of crime and fraud imaginable.

US War Veteran
US War Veteran

Yes, "So excellently said", too bad it's all bullshit.

Bobby
Bobby

You know that was'nt her message.

US War Veteran
US War Veteran

Adrian, I would have to disagree, the Mexicans are not invaders, they colonized, mapped and settled this land before any of us got here and robbed them of their land, and by us I mean any Europeans, or European descendants. That would be like telling Native Americans "get out of America, you dont belong here".

Bobby
Bobby

No one's pretending anything when it comes to you anti-white racists.

Bob
Bob

Yes, and those immigrants you mentioned, the Irish and Poles, followed the laws and rules of immigration to the USA at that time period.

But we are not talking about 80 or 100 years ago, as you very well know. We are talking about RIGHT NOW, and guess what Marcy? Poles and Irish have to jump through ALL sorts of hoops to try to emigrate to the USA. So why should Mexicans be treated any different? Are you racist or something?

Bob
Bob

Typical stupid brain washed suburban liberal.

Americansaredumb
Americansaredumb

Marcy in the USA we live like civilized people thanks to income tax, sales tax and property tax.

See, public services such as police and fire department, water, sewage, traffic signals, roads, parks, street lamps, bus service, libraries, recycling/garbage, all cost money. These services are not free.

Yes before income tax was implemented people were still taxed, just differently.

Yes, long ago when I jade 20k per year I still had income tax taken out of my paycheck. I worked at a subway when I was 16, almost 20 years ago. I remember, I made minimum wage which was about 6.75 an hour. At part time, since I was still in high school, I remember my paychecks being about 175-200 every couple weeks. Guess what, they took income tax out.

You are mistaken. I am not the problem. I follow the laws of this land, which is the united states of America.

The people who are the problem are you and your roach friends who think the laws don't apply to them. This includes congress who are usurping their constituents. Do you know what that word means or is it above your Mexican educated head? Constituents = taxpayers. Congress works for taxpayers. Mayors work for taxpayers. The president and government work for taxpayers. We pay their salaries. In a republic the citizens are the government.

The USA is a republic. You ever heard the pledge of alliegence? "...to the republic for which it stands...".

What happens If I sneak into Mexico? Tell me. What happens you fucking ignorant cunt?

You want to see mexican lawless culture? Google 53 killed in Monterrey when drug cartel lit a casino on fire.

Well thank god. 53 less roaches to invade and leech off of US taxpayers.

Illegal is not a race, it is a crime.

Anyone who is here illegally, Mexican, polish, Irish, Bosnian, Muslim, Chinese, get the fuck out. Go back to where you came from and come back LEGALLY. Follow our fucking laws.

Bitch

US War Veteran
US War Veteran

"Even JC Penneys has ***undoucumented workers*** working for them, they can't even speak or understand English"

"Employers will not hire U.S. citizens but they are quick to hire ***UNDOCUMENTED Illens (sic)*** to work for them"

You need to go back to school and brush up on your reading comprehension skills.

US War Veteran
US War Veteran

Damn copy and paste, did it again.

*return to the country..

US War Veteran
US War Veteran

"Understand something" Bobby, I am not "PRO" Illegal immigration, my ONLY consern here is the Rights of Americans and the Rights of ALL mankind in general, get it through your thick fucking skull, I AM NOT PRO ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION, BUT I AM AGAINST CORRUPT SHERIFFS, CORRUPT SENATE PRESIDENTS, AND CORRUPT GOVERNORS. and against any law enforcement officer or agency that thinks they are above the law because they have a badge. Is that so fucking hard to understand?

I DO NOT, I REPEAT, I DO FUCKING NOT justify violation of Civil Rights of American Citizens ( FELONY ) to catch 1 undocumented worker ( CIVIL MISDEAMEANOR ) as the so called Sheriff did in his last raid. Get it trough your fucking skull numbnuts.

Bobby
Bobby

Understand something folks, it's easy to see that although this fellow gives himself the name US War Veteran, his message is totally incongruent. He is fighting for some other cause that isn't American. Case closed. The scary part is 5 people agree with him and knowning this liberal blog, I woudln't doubt it's more like 500. Yes, this country is polarized. But not like the left would like to paint it good Americans vs. nativists, as US War Veteran constantly does. I would say it's traitors vs. patriots, I'll leave it to people with insight to determine who is who.

US War Veteran
US War Veteran

Very intelligent post, tell me how long did it take you to come up with that?

US War Veteran
US War Veteran

Stating facts that all, something you seem to have a problem with, but I do realize "facts" do not play a part in your fantasy world.

Bobby
Bobby

"I am not defending illegal immigration........

Has to be the headline of the month.

US War Veteran
US War Veteran

I find it very interresting that you mention "anchor babies" and "propaganda" in the same post, at least you didn't put it in the same sentence. I dont know why but I just want to say "hypocrite" over and over again, now I can't get that word out of my mind. Damn the bad luck.

US War Veteran
US War Veteran

I surprised you are making taxes such a big part of your argument, I am not defending illegal immigration but I should tell you, even illegal immigrants pay taxes, they pay taxes on absolutely everything they buy, from food, clothes, tools, gas, to cars and houses (rent or own it doesn't matter). they also pay income tax, how you ask? simple, their employers have to pay taxes, they are not going to pull that out of their pockets so they withold that from their employees, the difference now between you and I and illegal immigrants is that while you and I can file an income tax return and include our expenses on it to get some of that money back, illegal immigrants can not file returns, so the State and Federal Governments keep all that money collected, so ultimately they pay as much if not more than us.

Bob
Bob

"They don't earn enough to pay income taxes and if they aren't in the country legally the pay Social Security taxes but aren't eligible to collect benefits."

No, but their anchor baby children ARE eligible to collect benefits. You can see this all day every day if you know anyone involved in PHX social services. Just ask them. "American" (lol) kids are eligible for poverty assistance, no matter if their parents are illegals or not. And aid checks do not get addressed to children, they get addressed to guardians which means, yes...you guessed it: illegals can and do get 'government checks' all the time.

But then you probably already knew that, but typically don't want to ever bring that up because it doesn't help your amnesty case and throws an ugly light on your political propaganda.

Marcy
Marcy

BTW, you are obviously delusional if you think minimum wage was $6.75/hr "almost 20 years ago". It is $7.35/hr in Arizona today. 20 years ago was 1991 and minimum wage was $4.25/hr.

You sound upset and angry, get some anger therapy.

This is about changing to laws back to something that was working before racist dimwits like you demanded the laws governing guest labor be changed in the misguided belief that farm workers from Mexico were taking jobs from Americans.

I used to wander down to Mexico all the time, no paperwork, no visa, no passport, I just walked across the border. No problem and nobody hassling me. I travel frequently to other countries, most recently I was in another country for three weeks and rarely carried a single shred of ID. Left my passports in my safe in my apartment, no need for a driver's license since I wasn't driving, just took some money and a single debit card. Nobody was going to lock me up.

But you just keep that fire burning in your fevered imagination about immigrants being an awful problem in the US when the reality is far different.

Marcy
Marcy

Farm workers, legal or not, pay Social Security taxes, sales taxes and every other tax you mentioned. They don't earn enough to pay income taxes and if they aren't in the country legally the pay Social Security taxes but aren't eligible to collect benefits.

I'm quite familiar with what American demand for illegal drugs has done to Mexico.

Long ago $20K/yr was real money, now it isn't and people who make $20k/yr don't pay Federal income taxes. In fact about HALF of all LEGAL US residents who filed income tax returns paid ZERO federal income taxes.

Working hard in the farm fields isn't the definition of a leech honey. You sitting home on your couch collecting unemployment is.

 
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