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Stranded in California, Waiting for the Rain

An early look at a Pacific Standard story that's currently only available to subscribers.
Last year there were 17,000 fewer jobs for migrant laborers in the Central Valley than the year before. (Photo: Matt Black)

Last year there were 17,000 fewer jobs for migrant laborers in the Central Valley than the year before. (Photo: Matt Black)

For Central American migrants, the promise of work in the fields of California has dried up. Last year there were 17,000 fewer jobs in the Central Valley than the year before due to the enduring drought. This means that out-of-work migrants who can’t go back home—like the Hondurans Lauren Markham interviews—are stranded in California, waiting for rain. 

Lauren Markham's Pacific Standard story, produced in collaboration with the non-profit Food & Environment Reporting Network, is currently available to subscribers and will be posted online on Wednesday, May 06. Until then, an excerpt:

Since Clara—which isn’t her real name—crossed the border last June and ended up in California, immigration officers had been stopping by every other week to check up on the 40-year-old would-be farmworker. I assured her I was just a writer. Then she explained: “I can’t leave the house because of this,” lifting her ankle to show me a bulge the size of a bar of soap: a tracking bracelet, a term of her release from detention in Arizona. As a result, she said, “I don’t go to the store, don’t go to church, and I can’t work.”

The original plan had been for Clara’s husband to come to California to work the melon and grape and almond harvests in the Central Valley—based from the city of Mendota. When he’d earned enough for the couple to retire, he’d move back to his wife and kids in Lempira, Honduras. But then Clara got involved with local politics in Central America. She started supporting El Partido Libre, an opposition party, and the threats began. Strangers would call and tell her that if she didn’t stop organizing political gatherings, she and her daughter would be kidnapped and killed. Callers told Clara they’d find her and her daughter—whom I’ll call Melanie—wherever they went in Honduras.

We stood outside of Clara’s apartment while 13-year-old Melanie, who had just returned from school, brushed her hair until it gleamed. Occasionally a van pulled through the lot and a mud-caked worker or two trickled out: the lucky ones who’d found a job that day.

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