October 1, 2004

The Workers from Casa by the sea

By Luis Alonso Pérez

The morning of September 10th appeared to be the beginning of a day like any other day in Ensenada, Baja California.

Ivan Cortez was driving to work alone on the highway. He was an informatics technician for Casa by the sea, a rehabilitation center for American teenagers with conduct or addiction problems.

Usually he rode to work with Brenda —his wife and co-worker— but she was at home because she is eight months pregnant with her first son.

But when he got close to work, he noticed that something was wrong.

Dozens of cars where surrounding the entrance of Casa by the sea. The door was full of inspectors from several Mexican authorities, reporters, and county, state and federal police officers, with sniffing dogs and high caliber weapons.

Ivan got out of his car and tried to go in because he had a computer class to teach, but his access was denied so he wouldn’t interfere with the ongoing inspection.

The intervention went on all day long. Employees feared for their jobs. Some were sent back home, others like Ivan, had to cooperate with authorities or talk to inspectors, which in several occasions, have already inspected the center’s building and working procedures, without the need for a maneuver of this magnitude.

By the end of that day most teenagers had already left for the United States. In some cases, their parents picked them up, but in most cases they where transported in buses to San Ysidro.

For politicians and the media, the intervention had been a success. The inspectors and diplomats made their statements about their results to the dozens of reporter’s cameras and microphones.

The next morning the headlines on the newspapers announced the rescue and deportation of the American teenagers. “Punishment rooms and beatings in Ensenada’s rehab centers”; “Clinics hosted 590 illegal Americans”; “Interns denounce they where tortured”

The newspapers where sold like hot bread. The masses tuned into the news so they could know what went on, and to know the results from the Mexican authority’s honest work.

By the end of Saturday, less than 100 teenagers out of 536 where left in Casa by the sea. Some employees continued cooperating with the authorities in returning the kids to their parents. Others had the embarrassing duty of explaining angry parents why their kids where sent back home, after they where paying around 2000 dollars a month for their treatment and lodging.

By Monday morning the center was completely empty. Ivan, Brenda and the rest of the staff from Casa by the Sea where out of a job. 230 employees that worked in different areas like administrative, academic, medical, accounting, maintenance, laundry and kitchen, among others, where fired.

But not only the staff members and their families will be affected because of the center’s closing. According to administrative employees, this will affect around 1500 people: Employees that worked half time or indirectly; Outsourcing workforce like couriers, construction, cleaning, and security workers; Food, medicine and uniform suppliers, just to name a few.

Ivan still can’t understand why the center had to be shut down that way. The government agencies that got involved in the intervention, frequently inspected Casa by the Sea without prior notice.

In some cases, they found irregular situations or teenagers with immigration problems, and they took care of it by deporting them in an orderly manner, or forcing them to fix the problems.

In some cases, members from the public education agency inspected the center’s academic department, including Ivan’s computer classes and he doesn’t remember them finding anything irregular.

“This makes me very sad –said Ivan– especially because my work was beginning to stand out so I was promised a raise. They even promised me my own office”

Now Ivan and Brenda have to find a new job, so do the hundreds of employees of Casa by the sea that where left without a job in a matter of days. And with the difficult situation Mexico is going through, it’s not going to be easy.

“I worked for six years in this center. I believed in the program and the teenager’s development. To me it wasn’t just a job, I felt I was a part of Casa by the sea”..

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