Rantoul organization bracing for massive influx of migrant workers

Rantoul organization bracing for massive influx of migrant workers

RANTOUL — About three times more migrant workers than usual are expected to spend the summer working in Rantoul, leaving the leader of a local center scrambling to try to meet some of their needs.

The Rev. Nelson Cuevas, director of Rantoul's Cultivadores Latino Center, said his organization will provide some food and other necessities to about 600 workers plus their families. In previous years, about 200 workers and families came to Rantoul.

All will be living here, staying in area hotels and apartments.

In addition, about 1,000 migrant workers are expected to come to Champaign-Urbana this summer.

"If we average three (people) per household, you do the math," Cuevas said. "We're looking at almost 4,000 in Champaign County."

The additional influx of migrants is the work of three recruiters for seed corn companies who have been charged with bringing workers to central Illinois. Wages paid by the seed corn companies vary from minimum wage to $14 an hour, depending on the job, Cuevas said.

"The numbers are higher because there is more work this year in the fields," he said.

Cuevas said none of the workers are illegal immigrants. All are U.S. citizens and travel across the country where the work is. And an increasing number of the workers are English-speaking.

He said more young people are willing to become migrant workers because they are eligible for free college education through the Migrant Council.

While many of the migrants may be staying in Rantoul, they work throughout the area — from as far west as Bloomington-Normal to as far east as Hoopeston and Indiana.

Cuevas was in Texas last week meeting with company representatives to determine the number of migrants so Cultivadores can get ready.

Cultivadores will provide a food pantry and other services. He said food and other items are purchased from Eastern Illinois Foodbank.

"We make arrangements for their day care," Cuevas said. "This year, I need a lot of help because I don't have a lot of funds for this."

Donations of water or snacks are also needed.

He estimated Cultivadores will offer a food pantry "five or six" times during the migrants' stay, compared to "two to three" times normally.

"My function is to find out the numbers ... because Cultivators happens to be the first stop they make to get food and child care (for those who qualify) and to tap into other services available in our county," Cuevas said.

Cultivadores will offer food and services not only to the Rantoul-based migrants, but those in Champaign-Urbana too.

He estimated the migrants will stay this year for about six months.

"They usually stay July to October. This year, they have started early (and will stay) from early June to early December," he said.

While the field work will be long finished by the fall, Cuevas estimated half of the workers will likely stay to work in the seed companies' laboratories and in other jobs. A large majority will also help to clean apartments at the University of Illinois.

"A good bunch started cleaning apartments in May," Cuevas said. "About 150 workers are doing that."

A fundraiser will be held June 23 in front of the Cultivadores Latino Center on South Maplewood Drive to benefit the food pantry and other services.

Cuevas, who formerly spent part of the year in Rantoul and part in Puerto Rico, said he no longer travels to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated that U.S. territory last year.

"The conditions in Puerto Rico remain unsafe," Cuevas said. "There is no water, light or other accessories."

Donations for the migrants may be mailed or brought to the Latino center at 555 S. Maplewood Drive, Rantoul, IL 61866.

Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.

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