History: My Parent's Nightmare Experience Renting to Migrants

Mozelle Martin

OPINION: this article is based on the author's personal experience; it is not intended to imply legal advice.

I watched this video with Felipe Rodriguez about how border-crossers of late have been living in a $500-per-night hotel in New York. They are apparently wasting thousands of dollars of food (because they don't like it - a sense of entitlement? no gratitude?), and destroying the place... all at the taxpayer's expense. I just knew I had to write this article to share my experience. Although this article is about migrants, not immigrants, I believe the messaging appears to be consistent with both. Sorry, Felipe, you haven't seen anything yet.

Although a native of the south, for my middle youth years I lived in an 1800s hotel in the Midwest; it's where my grandparents lived. My adoptive parents purchased it for $100,000 cash in 1974. I know that doesn't sound like much money, but in today's economy, it is equal to $764,940.72. It was four (4) stories tall and almost filled a small town block curb-to-curb. The building was preserved in its original construction materials, listed in the historical society, and was a tourist stop for many.

Since 1970, Hispanic families had come up from Texas and Florida to work in the fields. Our small town of 2,000 people had limited rental units and lodging, so the county begged my parents to let migrants stay at our hotel for up to five consecutive months. The county stated they would pay the deposit they insisted we implement (we never had a reason to before). The county also stated they would pay their monthly rent. Utilities were all included and each room was fully-furnished.

My parents definitely did not want to rent to the migrant workers since most of our business came from the two casinos 30 miles away, one to the north and one to the south. They resisted and resisted, even contacting their attorney who said, "Well, it is a small town so cooperating with the county would be good politics." Then, once the county was able to coerce my parents into cooperation, we soon regretted it.

As an aside... I was married to a Hispanic man named Joe (from a migrant family) and we have a bi-racial son. This article is not about race or ethnicity, it's about my personal experience as I lived it.

Because more than half of the people who rented from us didn't speak English, Joe was there to help with translating and many other cultural-based concerns. I have always loved the Hispanic culture, yet the "migrant mindset" proved to be repeatedly challenging.

Each consecutive year, advertisements in South Texas (McAllen, Harlingen, Brownsville areas) showed our hotel on a map given to the migrant families headed to the Midwest for fieldwork. As agreed, the county agency (the local taxpayers) paid for all the deposits for the migrant families and also paid rent each month.

Yet, most of the time, when the migrant families moved out, their rooms and half of our hotel were destroyed with the average repair bill each year being thousands of dollars. What angered us is that even with the destruction, the county expected us to give the deposit to the families when they moved out.

This had gone on for many years. I won't bother to mention details about the number of people they had stashed in their rooms (way past fire code), how their babies were sleeping in dresser drawers, or how they treated their pets.

I moved into the hotel when I was in 5th grade. Now, as a mother and after watching this occur each year, I had an especially difficult time with the county's expectations. The money did not come from the families, so I didn’t feel the family should receive it when they moved out, especially after destroying our place each year.

On the very rare occasion when the room was in great condition, the deposit should still go back to the county, not the family.

After a while, even Joe said, "I am disgusted with my own people." Unfortunately, many of his own family members were among the worst. Yet, they had beautiful brass and marble custom-built homes in South Texas.

I don't understand... why destroy someone else's property when you don't destroy your own?

When we refused to return the deposit, most of the migrant families would go to the county's migrant attorney. She would then come to the hotel. My parents would have rather given the money to the family than be bullied and intimidated.

Thanks to all the years of my bullying, I was no longer going to be a victim. I had no problem dealing with the attorney. I had become known as the family pit bull, and we often joked that ‘Pit Bull’ would have been my mafia name. I wasn't trying to be mean or defiant; I simply had an issue with unfairness and ethics.

As an avid photographer, I took photo evidence of everything. Whenever the migrant attorney pulled up in front of our hotel, my parents would hide in one of the empty rooms. I stayed and met her at the door. If the attorney tried to bully or intimidate me, I said, "Okay, we will give the $200 deposit to the family. Then we'll send the repair bill for damages to the county. According to these photos, it will be much more than $200 anyway, so we’ll come out ahead."

Every time I did that, she backed down and agreed that we should keep the deposit. Eventually, she stopped coming by.

Two years later, I saw the attorney in the grocery store and asked why she hadn't been in our hotel for so long. She stated she was working for another county agency. She also said she didn't come by before changing jobs because she knew I would "present a good case." She told me I should have been a lawyer, and we both chuckled over that.

In 1995, the county director told us that each migrant worker (including child workers as young as 7 years old) earned approximately $68 per acre and was on a 10 – 15 person crew. That means that each migrant worker made $680 – $1020 per acre.

The county did not count their $25,000 fancy pick-ups (which was a lot back in the 1970s & 1980s) when they applied for any kind of assistance. Per In2013Dollars, "$25,000 in 1980 is equivalent in purchasing power to $90,047.63 today." Because the county did not count the family's assets, every worker was approved for free rent, medical, dental, and food stamps.

One day I was at the county office awaiting some paperwork. An older woman in her 70s was in the lobby. I had known her since I was a child because she attended our church. She went in and applied for food stamps. While we were in the lobby, the county worker came out and quietly told this long-time citizen of our town, "I'm sorry, we couldn’t approve you because your car is worth $2,800" ($10,000 in today's economy).

I went to the next county meeting and ranted about it. The county agency's politics angered me so badly because I felt that it was all 100% discriminatory, biased (against the locals), and unfair.

My parents and I attended many farm meetings and advocated that if the farmers needed these workers, they should build housing for them. By the time we shut down the business, in 1996, many farmers had put mobile homes on their properties, and even a "migrant village" of mini houses similar to this was built.

For us, it was too late... literally, the emotional and financial damage had been done and we paid the price.

Someone reading this will likely want to bring politics into this so let me address that now.

The state this occurred in is still democratic, and the county this occurred in was and perhaps still is democratic. My mom was a Democrat (but not like the Dems of today), and my father was a Republican. Me? I never paid any attention to politics until a couple of years ago when I was inundated with it everywhere online. Even with being proudly apolitical all of my life, I feel both sides (not the extremists) have valid arguments so if I had to identify with something, it'd be Centrist.

You can try to blame my parents and that's probably normal in some way. You didn't live it, I did. I saw them fight and fight and fight. I fought and fought and fought. The bottom line is that the laws protected the migrants, not my parents, and definitely not the taxpaying locals.

Although my father was retired military, they did not sell the business for two main reasons: (1) this hotel was part of their retirement plan. They were going to give it to me when they died, and (2) by this time, the hotel had a locally-bad reputation due to the situation in this article. Nobody wanted to buy a business that is now a liability and nobody wanted to inherit this disaster.

Each year, the building's insurance went up due to the extensive claims. The rest of the repairs had to be paid out of cash on hand.

These damages are what led my parents into bankruptcy. Doctors believed it is largely what led to my father's death thereby forcing my mother to live in county housing.

After we were moved out and relocated, it broke our hearts to watch our blood, sweat, and tears being destroyed by a wrecking ball with literally nothing to show for it.

1800s hotelPhoto byMozelle Martin

I promised my mother that one day I would vindicate the hotel for her.

Therefore, what follows are very few photographs of the damages that occurred every year for 20 years when the migrant families left. Due to discrimination laws, my parents were not allowed to refuse to rent to them or they would have been sued. They had tried many, many times to refuse these tenants and, each time, they were threatened with legal action.

some damagesPhoto byMozelle Martin

some damagesPhoto byMozelle Martin

some damagesPhoto byMozelle Martin

some damagesPhoto byMozelle Martin

some damagesPhoto byMozelle Martin

some damagesPhoto byMozelle Martin

As if that wasn't enough, they did not flush their "poo papers". Instead, they put them in the trash can. Not only did it smell up the entire area, but I'm also sure it was a public health concern too.

poo papersPhoto byMozelle Martin

As you look at the photos, keep in mind this building was built in the 1800s and was preserved with the original materials. That's why it was in the historical society. Although not built with the most quality materials by today's construction standards, that does not give anyone the right to destroy it.

Arson in HotelPhoto byMozelle Martin

The fire was then officially ruled as arson on April 5, 1996.

I have a 90-minute walk-through video that was filmed by the police after my parents were served lawsuit papers. It was the last time my parents tried to deny the migrants housing... a last-ditch effort to preserve their dream.

As I stated above, the law did not protect landlords at all... and it appears it still may not if what we are currently reading or seeing online is true.

I think this type of behavior - from anyone, not just migrants or immigrants - should be criminally prosecuted, and landlords should have a RIGHT to deny housing!

OPINION: this article is based on the author's personal experience; it is not intended to imply legal advice.

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Retired Forensic HWE / Military / Creative Junkie / Social Media Victim

Texas State

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