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Thursday, September 08, 2005 | It was a day they knew would be coming sooner or later.
Carlos and Raoul Carreón Rivera returned home last Friday after eight hours of back-breaking work on a construction site to find the notice they had been dreading. Pasted onto the walls of their ramshackle hut and onto boards hammered into the ground in the midst of their camp were printed notices.
“Private Property, No Trespassing” read the signs. “Trespassing is illegal and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The paper notices warn the migrant workers that they must vacate the land – where many have lived for the last three or four months – by Sept. 12. On that day, the notices say in Spanish and English, “everything that is not removed will be thrown away.”
The workers, dozens of whom have been served with the notices, said they have no choice but to move east, further into the valley that has become their dusty home.
Migrant workers living in the area had conflicting accounts of who put up the signs. Some insisted it was uniformed police officers, while others said the notices were erected by “civilians.”
The signs were put up by the owners of the property, according to San Diego police officials.
Officer Juan Muñoz, migrant liaison officer for the Northern Division, said the owner of the property, Chris Barczewski, who owns and operates a nearby nursery, decided to take the action to combat the increasing numbers of migrant workers settling on his land.
Barczewski was unavailable for comment at press time.
The number of workers setting up camp sharply increased after an adjacent landowner, Pardee Homes, took action to move settlers off its property earlier this year, said Muñoz. Many of those workers simply moved further east down the valley to settle on Barczewski’s land.
The important issue for Barczewski, and for any landowner in a similar position, explained Muñoz, is liability.
“It is their property. They are responsible for it,” said Muñoz. “If something were to happen out there, as far as somebody getting hurt, or if by some chance somebody were to start some kind of a fire or something, by them being aware of these people being on their property, and not doing anything about it, somebody could hold them liable for it.”
Police Lt. Chris Ellis said that the area of Carmel Valley where many of the migrant workers have made their homes is essentially a patchwork of plots owned by a number of individuals and companies.
The city of San Diego owns some of the land. So does Pardee Homes and another developer, Western Pacific Housing, which are not based in San Diego.
What tends to happen when one landowner decides to remove the migrants, said Ellis, is they simply move to the next patch of land.
That scenario was certainly on the minds of many of the migrant workers on Wednesday.
“We will move somewhere else” said Jose Cauich Batún, a migrant worker from the Yucatán Peninsula.
“What else can we do?” he added, shrugging.
The migrant workers said they have not been hassled by the landowners. Rather, the owners apparently slipped into the area during the day to erect the signs when most of the men were out at work or looking for jobs.
Ellis said police will sometimes chaperone landowners while they clean up areas vacated by migrant workers. The role of the police on such occasions, he said, is to “maintain the peace.” Past clean-ups, he said, have proceeded without incident.
As for Carlos and Raoul Carreón Rivera, they have already stripped the land they once inhabited bare. Where a week ago there was a sturdy hut made from sheets of wood and wooden posts, now there is just a bare patch of earth. The ground where their thin mattresses once lay is discolored and dry. They have taken their few possessions, stuffed them into black plastic bags and carried them to a new site further down the valley.
For Cauich Batún and others like him, however, a move a few miles farther east will not be quite so simple. First he will have to carry everything he owns to a new site, then there’s the question of getting to work every day.
He already cycles for 20 minutes each morning to look for work by the freeway. His commute is about to double.
Please contact Will Carless directly at