After 25 years, migrant worker loses legs and any hope of work in Canada

For 25 years, Jesus Rosas Flores spent months working at Hamilton-area farms, leaving behind his family in Mexico where he missed births, soccer games, graduations and many things in between — all because of the hope his wages as a migrant worker gave his family.

That all came to a crashing halt in the cool morning air Nov. 3 at a family-run potato farm just outside Waterdown, when the 63-year-old was in an accident that cost him both legs.

"After being here for 25 years I'm going to go back home and I'm not entitled to come back to Canada," he says, through a translator.

"I have given my sweat and my blood into this country, working really hard, we work from sunup to sundown, and once we get sent back it's as if we are garbage ... we are not allowed to come back anymore."

He focuses on the present, keeping faith in God, in the community that has rallied around him and the family that came from Mexico to be by his side.

Rosas Flores is sitting in bed, fidgeting with the white blanket that covers what's left of his legs that were amputated below the knee. He's at a long-term care home, where he recently moved from hospital and where he's expected to stay about three months.

His recovery includes daily exercises and physiotherapy, with the hope of eventually being fitted with prosthetics.

He doesn't want to talk about the accident. Instead he focuses on the present, keeping faith in God, in the community that has rallied around him and the family that came from Mexico to be by his side.

From emergency services, we know the accident happened Nov. 3 as Rosas Flores worked with a potato truck; both of his legs were caught up in the machinery.

A team of advanced care paramedics and surgeons from the Hamilton General Hospital arrived at the scene after the 8:45 a.m. 911 call. They worked for two hours to stabilize him while firefighters and another employee from the farm dismantled the machine around him.

The surgical team had responded because of the possibility they'd have to do an amputation on site to save his life. They managed to free him after about two hours and he was whisked away to an awaiting Ornge air ambulance that flew him to Hamilton General Hospital. But in hospital both legs had to be amputated.

His son Jorge Rosas Cisneros, a Catholic priest, was the first family member to arrive in Canada a couple of days after the accident. That's when the family learned he had lost his legs.

He stayed for two weeks and now Rosas Flores's wife, Teresa Cisneros de Rosas, and two of his daughters, Carmen and Maria Rosas Cisneros, are here.

None had ever left Mexico before. Two other adult children remain back home.

Rosas Flores said he wanted to thank everyone involved in his rescue and who has helped, including Brenn-B Farms' owners and his co-workers, paramedics, firefighters, and doctors, along with other migrant workers, and farm owners, and community members who have come together to visit him and support his family since the accident.

The Ministry of Labour was called to investigate at the Concession 5 West farm. Spokesperson Janet Deline said one order was issued since the accident to provide training to the workers on the safe unloading of a potato truck.

That order was complied with and the MOL investigation is ongoing, she added.

The last 14 years he's been working he has returned to Brenn-B, a fourth-generation family farm. Compared with other places he's worked, Rosas Flores said the Brenn family are "not just good, but very good employers."

Terry Hubbard, a local advocate for migrant workers who's organizing support for Rosas Flores, agreed, saying they treat their employees like family and have been quietly offering support.

"It's a huge testament to the family ... that people who care about the family want to help," she said.

The farm owners did not return requests for comment.

Hubbard has worked with hundreds of local migrant workers and says it's often the case that once a worker is injured there is a push to get them out of the country as quickly as possible.

There is no means to apply for residency and it's only when a worker has been injured that family can visit.

Workers often face discrimination and racism here, she says. Rosas Flores agrees.

A simple hello or smile in the grocery store can go a long way.

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) covers Rosas Flores' medical stay and flight for one family supporter.

But the community has helped the family, including a member of All Souls on Barton Street West who donated an apartment for the family to stay in while they're here.

This week Hubbard took the sisters to Niagara Falls — Rosas Flores says he doesn't want them spending every moment at his bedside.

St. Charles Adult and Continuing Education centre is offering free English classes for the women.

Carmen, 20, says she likes Hamilton, but has found the language barrier very difficult.

Last year, Carmen graduated from a business engineering university program in Mexico — an opportunity she says she would never have had without her dad's sacrifices.

Maria, 25, was just a month into a new apartment and job in Mexico when she dropped everything to come here.

Before taking a family photo, the girls gather around their father, lovingly straightening his dark hair with a small black comb.

Rosas Floras has had a steady stream of visitors from the community and other farms since the accident, but none more important than having his family with him.

"It feels like I'm home, there is hope and strength because family is here," he says.

Paula Rodriguez, who has been acting as translator, joked about the long line of visitors often crowding his room.

"The first time I went to translate for him I wondered who was that movie star in the room," she says.

She's marvelled at Rosas Flores' resilience. Nursing staff told her many victims in his situation require psychiatric intervention, but somehow Rosas Flores has, through faith and family, remained positive.

One time he delighted nurses and visitors when he picked up someone's guitar and began to play.

Rosas Flores's face lights up when asked about playing guitar. But it lights up more when asked about his two grandkids (and one on the way).

Carmen quickly pulls out her phone and shows a video of her four-year-old niece singing with all her heart in the back seat of a car in Mexico. Rosas Flores beams.

He doesn't want to think about what lies ahead, what his life will be like when he returns to Mexico in several months.

"I know that when I go back to Mexico that's it, but I have a life here."

905-526-3199 | @NicoleatTheSpec

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