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Mexican farmworker's death under investigation by North Carolina Department of Labor

Workers loaded watermelons onto a truck in Wilson County in August 2023, on a day when temperatures were in the 90s. Extreme heat is a challenge for outdoor workers.
David Boraks
Workers with a separate H-2A team load watermelons onto a truck in Wilson County, on a day when temperatures were in the 90s. Extreme heat is a challenge for outdoor workers.

The North Carolina Department of Labor is investigating the death of a seasonal farm worker on Tuesday morning in Nash County.

Thirty-year-old José Arturo González Mendoza of Guanajuato, Mexico was in North Carolina under an H-2A visa for temporary agricultural workers. One of the man's relatives says lack of water and breaks from the heat were factors, though a cause of death hasn’t been officially determined.

González Mendoza began working at Barnes Farming in Spring Hope, about 40 miles east of Raleigh, less than two weeks before he died. His younger brother said they began working at the farm after years of taking H-2A jobs elsewhere.

North Carolina has about 15,000 H-2A visa holders, who work seasonal jobs harvesting tobacco, cotton, sweet potatoes and more. While summer heat puts outdoor workers at risk of heatstroke and other serious issues, there are no labor regulations currently in place mandating water breaks or other safety measures.

González Mendoza's family said workers weren’t provided enough food or water during the day, but many are afraid to lose their jobs if they complain.

The brothers worked in separate fields on Tuesday. His younger brother said went to see his González Mendoza's body before he was transported to the morgue.

“He was harvesting sweet potatoes. He warned that he wasn’t feeling well but they didn’t pay attention,” he said. “When they called the ambulance, he was already lifeless.”

The Nash County Division of 911 Communications said it received a call at 10:42 a.m. reporting a cardiac or respiratory arrest case off of Old Bailey Highway. Shortly before noon, González Mendoza’s body was transported from the site to the Nash County morgue.

A statement from Barnes Farming said González Mendoza notified his field supervisor that he wasn’t feeling well and went to rest at the back of the bus used to transport workers. A manager then checked on him, the company said, and called 911.

Barnes Farming said it is working with the North Carolina Growers Association to pay for the funeral and other expenses, as well as to provide grief counseling to employees.

El Centro Hispano, a nonprofit advocacy group, is working with the family to refer the case to the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh.

According to the National Weather Service, the heat index was in the high 90s when Gonzalez Mendoza fell ill. An autopsy to determine the cause of death is pending.

González Mendoza is survived by two sons, ages 11 and 7, and a wife, his brother said.

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This story was produced through a collaboration between WFAE and La Noticia. You canread it in Spanishat La Noticia. Puedes leer la nota en español en La Noticia.

Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.