María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez was 17 years old when she died. She was also pregnant. Until just a few days ago, she worked on farms and vineyards around Lodi, CA, near the city of Sacramento. It was while she was working in the vineyards that she fell ill and passed away. The cause of her death - severe dehydration. She would have lived, if she'd had access to timely medical attention. She did not.
Yesterday, in the wake of María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez's death, the Mexican government expressed deep concern about the working conditions of Mexican laborers in the United States. In a written statement, Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Policy explained that initial reports indicate possible criminal neglect on the part of Vásquez Jiménez's employers, who failed to provide her with the timely medical care she needed. Mexican officials have ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death, and the Secretary of Foreign Policy is calling on the U.S. government to guarantee safe and ethical working conditions for Mexican workers. "Toda vez que esta lamentable muerte pudo haberse evitado si los empleadores hubieran acatado las leyes aplicables," the Secretary insists - this tragic death could have been avoided had the employers acted within the applicable laws.
It is truly chilling to realize that the problems that faced María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez are anything but rare. We have created a society that takes advantage of the people who come to our nation to work. We offer immigrants job opportunities while simultaneously threatening them not only with neglect and deportation, but also with incarceration. We give them reasons to fear seeking medical help. We even threaten their children in schools. If we fail to act to remedy the situation, if we fail to enact and enforce laws that accept the realities of immigration and protect the rights of immigrants, more tragedies will follow.
You can read more about María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez and Mexico's response in Spanish in this El País article. Meanwhile, I will continue to look for news agencies covering the story in English.
UPDATE: The Sacramento Bee has picked up the story, and confirms most of the facts mentioned in the El País article. What the Sacramento Bee adds are some details of the conditions in which María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez was working:
UPDATE II: I would like to join TomP of Daily Kos in encouraging readers to honor María Isabel Vásquez Jiménez by giving to the United Farm Workers, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of those who labor in our country with so few protections. If you find you cannot give money, please consider spreading the word about this tragedy, and about the horrible conditions faced by so many good people who come to this country so full of hope.
During eight hours of work beginning at 6 a.m. in heat that topped 95 degrees, Bautista [her fiancé] said that workers were given only one water break, at 10:30 a.m. And the water was a 10-minute walk away – too far, he said, to keep up with the crew and avoid being scolded.
Vasquez Jimenez collapsed at 3:30 p.m., Bautista said, and for at least five minutes, the foreman did nothing but stare at the couple while Bautista cradled her.
Bautista said the foreman told him to place the teenager in the back seat of a van, which was hot inside, and put a wet cloth on her.
Later, Bautista said, the foreman told a driver to take the pair to a store to buy rubbing alcohol and apply it to see if it would revive Vasquez Jimenez. When that failed, the driver took the couple to a clinic in Lodi, Bautista said, where her body temperature had reached more than 108 degrees.