Jose and Julieta Melendez came to Moline in December to escape the perils of Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Gulfport, Miss. Today, they are trying to escape financial ruin.
The couple and their three children -- Julio, 11, Mirca, 5, and Christopher, 3 -- moved in with Mrs. Melendez's brother after losing everything to the hurricane. Mr. Melendez soon found work with a subcontractor, cleaning a Moline business.
He's been waiting for his last paycheck for over a month. "I have nothing but financial worries," Mrs. Melendez said through translator Xochi Herrera-Pannell. "I don't sleep at night."
Mrs. Melendez said her husband worked seven days a week for a month, cleaning the local business with another man. Then the other man was let go, for reasons unknown to the Melendezes.
Mr. Melendez continued cleaning the business by himself, working six- to 10-hour shifts seven days a week, with the understanding that he'd have help soon, his wife said.
The work was beginning to take a toll on Mr. Melendez physically and mentally. Not wanting to give up his job, he called the cleaning service, TexMex, which hires Mexican immigrants for cleaning jobs around the country.
His first calls were unreturned, Mrs. Melendez said. Subsequent calls garnered claims from the company of being unable to speak English or Spanish, depending on which language the caller was using. Eventually he had reached his limit and quit the job.
Mrs. Melendez said it was extremely hard for her husband to quit a steady job with three children to take care of, but the strain of doing such a demanding job on his own was taking its toll.
When his final paycheck came in, roughly $1,000, the family cashed it as usual. They were surprised to hear from the bank a couple of days later.
"The bank said the check had been canceled and they wanted the $1,000" back, said Ms. Herrera-Pannell.
The family contacted Ms. Herrera-Pannell for help in getting Mr. Melendez's money back. She runs the Hispanic Advocate Project, a non-profit organization that helps fairly and properly represent Hispanics in legal and business matters.
After getting the runaround from TexMex, the Chicago firm that subcontracts it, and the local business, Ms. Herrera-Pannell decided to approach the media.
She said TexMex has in its contract, "which is in English on purpose even though they hire Mexicans, that if you quit a job without 15 days notice that your last paycheck is forfeited.
"I get that, that's fine, but what it comes down to is that he was working a two-man job by himself, and he was promised help." Ms. Herrera-Pannell said.
She said she isn't sure if the company could legally withhold earnings regardless, but plans to look into that.
The family has been living on next to nothing since March 17, with Mr. Melendez working odd jobs when he can. He's authorized to work legally in the United States and is an experience cement worker.
For more information or to donate items to the family, call Ms. Herrera-Pannell at the Hispanic Advocacy Project, (309) 236-3372.