March 13, 2013
Mexican construction worker apprehended at Vancouver job site
Oscar Mata had wandered outside the building he was painting when he realized something was wrong.
One of his friends and co-workers had just been grabbed by a uniformed officer on the worksite for Porter, a 192 condo unit midrise project on Victoria Street in Vancouver.
Mata, a 28-year-old Mexican national, who has been in Canada for the last five years on a student visa, was scared.
He isn't legally entitled to work in Canada.
“I saw they had my friend and I ran,” he said. “I hid in a closet.”
Mata was caught up in a raid on March 13 by Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) that targeted illegal workers and was filmed by a camera crew for a reality television series.
Mata said that at least 10-12 officers combed each of the five floors of the development looking for illegal workers.
A border officer found him in the closet and asked him for identification. Standing behind the agent was a television cameraman and another person carrying a microphone.
After being unable to produce identification, Mata was taken out to the sidewalk where, he said, about eight or nine of his fellow illegal workers were handcuffed and talking to border agents.
He said most of the workers from his company, who were on site were rounded up and questioned.
He said he couldn’t recall the name of the company he worked for, but it had “construction” in the name. He had worked for them for about six weeks.
Cressey Development Corp. is both the developer and the prime contractor on the project, but Mata said that he worked for a smaller subcontracting firm.
Cressey representatives have so far declined comment on the matter.
Matta and his co-workers were taken to the Canada Citizenship and Immigration office on Georgia Street in Downtown Vancouver for processing.
The workers remained cuffed during transport, but were freed after they arrived at the office.
They were kept in a large room and individually interviewed. Mata said he believes that there were workers from different jobsites.
“In other rooms, there were other guys,” he said.
The Vancouver Sun reported that three different construction sites around Vancouver were raided as part of the crackdown and that many of the other undocumented painters at Porter were Honduran.
However, the CBSA has yet to confirm details or comment on the raids.
The undocumented painters were then transported to Vancouver International Airport in handcuffs, where they spent the night in suites without handcuffs, but they weren't allowed to leave.
Matta said the accommodations were comfortable.
“There was food, bed, magazines and a television,” he said.
A number of the workers were kept in custody, but Mata was released the next morning on a promise that he would return to Mexico in a week’s time and abide by a number of conditions that included showing up and signing in at the immigration and citizenship office each day, as well as showing immigration officials his plane ticket two days later.
He purchased his own plane ticket for $400. It would take him to a beach resort, but it was cheaper that a direct flight to his hometown.
He said he’s unlikely to find sustainable work as a painter in Mexico and make the same type of money.
“My life is going to change,” he said.
Mata said he’d been working for the same painting company for about the last month and a half and that he was getting paid $15 an hour in cash.
He said he heard about the job through a friend of a friend and that’s how he continued to find illegal employment over the last few years.
Mata said the pay was usually about the same regardless of the company he worked for.
“Sometimes it might be a dollar more an hour or a couple dollars less,” he said, adding it was never difficult to track down work.
It’s believed the reality television crew was there to film an episode of Border Security for National Geographic and Global TV.
Mata said he believes he signed a release for the show during the confusion of the apprehension.
“I was just so scared that I signed it,” he said.
Mata was told that he will have to spend at least a year in Mexico before applying to return to Canada.
“I know the process,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time."
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