TELEVISION REVIEW : 'Uneasy Neighbors' Tells San Diego Migrants' Plight

For North County residents, the thousands of migrant workers who call the area home are a part of everyday life.

They are visible on the street corners looking for work, or in the supermarkets buying food or on the pages of local newspapers.

But few really know how or where the migrants live, beyond knowing that they congregate in the hills.

If nothing else, "Uneasy Neighbors," a KPBS-TV (Channel 15) documentary airing today at 8 p.m., succeeds in providing viewers with a glimpse of the daily life of one group of workers, in the Green Valley camp in Encinitas.

The program, which includes a post-documentary round-table discussion with local experts, vividly shows the human side of a problem that is too-often couched in political rhetoric.

However, beyond suggestions for cities to pursue more available grant money, there are few constructive ideas presented by the panel.

From the camp, the growing condo-land of Encinitas is clearly visible. The poignant pictures of migrant families eating breakfast in their hovels, while the sun rises over the expensive homes to the east, clearly delineates the social chasm that exists between the migrants and the homeowners.

The show, produced and narrated by Paul Espinosa, KPBS director of Hispanic Affairs, attempts to simplify the complicated social and political problems presented by the migrants, some documented, some not, and perhaps examine solutions. It primarily succeeds in clarifying the problems.

The migrants are here because they do the work nobody else will do, for wages no one else will accept, says Rafael Martinez, the retired Presbyterian minister dubbed the "Angel of the Hills" for his work with the migrants. Though most people assume the migrants work in the fields, he says most handle domestic chores for their affluent neighbors.

"They are here because we give them jobs," Martinez points out. "They are needed here."

The program follows Martinez on his trips to the camp, where he counsels the migrants and helps two pregnant women get medical care at a local clinic.

It also attempts to articulate the "other" point of view, that of the local homeowners. An older couple shows the cardboard and wood remains of a camp near their home. Like many others, it is clear that they didn't want a group of people living in their back yard.

But the program clearly sympathizes with the migrant families living in the hills, their pitiful living conditions and the society that doesn't provide for their needs and doesn't seem to care.

"You treat us like dogs," a worker says.

The program doesn't try to examine the more complicated problems presented by this "uneasy" situation, such as crimes perpetrated by migrants and against migrants--or the stereotypes that permeate both points of view. It touches on the enforcement problems created by the new amnesty program, and the health problems of the camps, but it keeps the discussion at a very human level, focusing on the plight of the migrants who only want to feed their families.

The camp was closed in February, which only forced the migrant families to find a new area to live in, where another neighborhood began complaining about its new neighbors.

Near the end of the documentary portion of "Uneasy Neighbors," former Encinitas Mayor Marjorie Gaines talks about the politicians' fear of being labeled racist if they address problems of migrant camps.

Martinez has a more basic view.

"It's simply a problem of low-income housing," he says.

In much the same way that Martinez' voice stands out in the documentary portion of the show, cutting through the rhetoric, the words of Claudia Smith, regional counsel for California Legal Assistance, come through loud and clear in the post-documentary analysis.

"When people approach the problem, they talk about it as a regional problem," Smith says. "What that means is nobody wants to shoulder their part of the burden. That's what regional means."

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