Objective. The primary objective of this article is to investigate the "informal" marketplace for domestic servants (maids) in a border community in South Texas (Laredo). Methods. A questionnaire was administered by a household member familiar with the present study who employed at least one maid utilizing the snowball method of sample selection. Usable data (surveys) were collected from 389 individuals--195 maids and 194 employers. Results. For maids, who are overwhelmingly female Mexican nationals, the primary determinant or "push" factor in becoming a maid was economic necessity while the primary "pull" factor was good pay. A large hourly wage differential was uncovered for day maids ($3.44) vis-a-vis live-in maids ($2.61), which was primarily the result of civil status and the possession of documents permitting entry into the United States as determined by a logistic regression. Conclusion. The relative attractiveness of work as a maid in Laredo, Texas reflects the benefit of good pay balanced by the cost of poor employment choice in Mexico.
Sandra Bearden, of Laredo, Texas, made national headline news in May 2001 for the despicable and unlawful treatment of her 12-year-old Mexican maid. According to the Laredo Morning Times, Laredo police found the immigrant girl, suffering from dehydration and exposure, "shackled by her hands and feet, covered in cuts and bruises, in the back yard of a Laredo home" where the "girl spent each morning cleaning the home [after which] she was taken outside, chained, bound, and left with no food or water (Laredo Morning Times, May 14, 2001:1A). During the trial it was also disclosed that Sandra Bearden forced the victim to eat dog feces, sleep outside, and that Bearden had "put a tool inside [the] private parts" of the victim (Laredo Morning Times, October 17, 2001:1A). The horror continued as Mrs. Bearden broke a broom over the victim's back and a glass bottle against the victim's head, and sprayed red pepper spray repeatedly into the victim's face because Bearden felt her maid was underperforming in her duties ( Laredo Morning Times, October 17, 200 1:1A).
Seven months earlier, Mrs. Bearden had traveled into the interior of Mexico to a small poverty-stricken village in the state of Veracruz and convinced the parents of the 12-year-old girl to allow the preteen to come to the United States for a better life as a maid. Mrs. Bearden then smuggled the girl across the border near McAllen, Texas, returned home to Laredo, with the knowledge of her accomplice husband, Dennis Bearden, to begin the little girl's odyssey as a maid (Laredo Morning Times, May 17, 200 1:1A). In October 2001, Sandra Bearden was found guilty on seven felony counts related to child abuse, including injury to a child, unlawful restraint, and child abandonment, and sentenced to 99 years with the possibility of parole in 30 years (Laredo Morning Times, October 20, 2001:1A). Though maids are common throughout the border region, this outright violation of human rights and dignity of maids is not.
Mexican domestic servants, known locally as maids, are overwhelmingly female and working in U.S. border cities as primarily the result of dynamic economic forces. That is, the large wage differential between the United States and Mexico draws potential Mexican workers to the border and poor employment alternatives in Mexico push Mexican workers away from Mexico. This "push" and "pull" process effects mostly those low-skilled workers who find work in the United States very attractive compared to work, if available, at home in Mexico. This economic dilemma provided the climate for the Beardens to exploit their maid as outlined above.
The location for this present research is Laredo, Texas. Laredo is the second fastest growing metropolis in the United States, with approximately 200,000 residents, 96 percent of whom are Hispanic. Laredo's Mexican sister city is Nuevo Laredo, a city containing about 700,000 inhabitants, and is the source of the majority of the maids working in Laredo. The economic distortions associated with border cities is dearly evident in the maid trade in Laredo where the international bridge, the Rio Grande, and public transportation ferry domestic workers throughout the city in order for maids to ply their vocation. That is, maids are a common everyday sight in Laredo. Though there are no exact figures as to the flow of maids into Laredo, a conservative estimate after Ruiz's (1987) study of maids in El Paso would indicate about 5,000 maids in the city if every 10th household employed just one maid.
This research note identifies the significant results of a more comprehensive study conducted by the authors on Mexican maids in the southern border region of the United States. The present exploratory investigation seeks to sharpen the focus on the economic phenomena of maids and those who employ maids in the U.S.-Mexican border region. Our research questions, constructed from …