HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) — The Utah mining accident has illustrated the way increasing numbers of Hispanic immigrants are working the mines in this heavily white, mostly Mormon state.
Three of the six men trapped in Monday’s cave-in are from Mexico, according to the Mexican Consulate.
People come here because they know that there’s enough work to go around, said Salvador Lazalde, a local Hispanic leader whose cousins work in a nearby open-pit copper mine and who worries that one of the trapped miners is from his hometown, a village in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. If the pay is good, people say the risk is worth it. They know that starting the job.
Exactly how many Hispanics are working the mines in Utah is not clear. But as the global coal market has heated up, some mining companies across the West have filled a rash of new jobs in recent years with immigrants from Mexico.
Immigrants are often more willing to settle for low wages and accept the dangers involved in digging coal thousands of feet beneath the surface.
Little is known about the trapped miners. But relatives have confirmed the names of three of them: Manuel Sanchez, 41; Kerry Allred, no age available; and Carlos Payan, in his 20s.
The Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City had no information on their hometowns. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said he was told by the consulate that the Mexican miners are legal immigrants.
Mr. Sanchez’s sister said Wednesday that relatives had not been given enough information about the rescue efforts, and that three Spanish-speaking families were not provided an interpreter in the first three days of the crisis.
We’ve provided translators for the Hispanic families and crisis counselors, said Bob Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp., part-owner of the mine. We’ve kept them sequestered, and I feel we’ve administered to their needs very much.
The influx of Hispanics is part of a dynamic that has been going on in Utah since pioneer days.
Chinese, Greek and Mexican miners first flocked to Utah — and other Western states such as Montana and Wyoming — in the 1880s, lured by work in the coal fields. They settled in mining centers such as Emery County, a region of towering red and brown rock formations that is now home to many of the workers in the collapsed mine.
A new wave of miners — many of them thought to be illegal aliens — came to Utah when the coal industry started booming again.
A lot of these coal miners are trained and knowledgeable miners, said Ricardo Silva, a community activist who volunteers with the Utah Coalition for La Raza and Jobs with Justice. They need a job, and they’ll do anything for it, including working in these really dangerous conditions.
The number of Hispanics in Utah grew from about 200,000 in 2000 to about 230,000 in 2005, constituting 11 percent of the state’s population, according to Census figures.
University of Utah demographer Pam Perlich said that as of 2000, Hispanics accounted for about 7 percent of Utah’s mining-industry work force of 8,150.