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When President George W. Bush and members of Congress proposed guestworker programs as part of new immigration reform legislation, it was with the implication that nothing similar had existed before. Yet since 1986, thousands of Mexican men have legally entered the United States to work as part of the little-known H-2A guestworker program, put in effect during the Reagan administration. Filmed on both sides of the border, The Guestworker chronicles the life of such farmworkers and explores the issues surrounding the program.
The film focuses on sixty-six-year-old Mexican farmer Candelario Moreno Gonzales, who works on tobacco, cucumber, and pepper fields in North Carolina. He has made his trip annually for forty years, and has been jailed three times for lack of documentation. Now too old to risk illegal crossings, he has paid thousands of dollars for program participation costs. Although he is twenty years older than most of his fellow workers, he puts in the same grueling hours with no hope of citizenship or its accompanying benefits. The film also shows the troubles of his employer, Len Wester, who may lose his farm to drought, and examines his dependency on foreign laborers to sustain his farm.
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