SPECIAL REPORT-Former circus owner becomes powerful figure in foreign worker pipeline
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By Mica Rosenberg and Megan Twohey
COVINGTON, Virginia Dec 23 (Reuters) - It was after midnight last spring when a bus dropped 20 road-weary Mexican workers outside this city of 6,000 people.
They had cleared customs, crossed the U.S. border, and spent parts of three nights in the bus before arriving at their new home for the next six months: a traveling carnival called Cole Shows Amusement Company.
No matter how many hours they worked, each would earn $316.22 a week after taxes for assembling the rides, tearing them down and doing anything else to keep the show on the road.
Their new boss, R.C. Cole, greeted the workers and ushered them to the windowless trailers with narrow, 6-foot-long rooms - their living quarters for the coming months.
"Is there a bulb in there," Cole asked in a gravelly drawl, futilely flipping a switch in one of the rooms. "No? We'll need to get a new bulb over here."
Cole could handle the trailer repairs. But he and more than 150 other carnival owners and concessioners across the nation have come to rely on a specialist to find the workers and get them the visas they need to work in the United States.
Enter James Judkins, a man familiar with the needs of a traveling show. A former circus owner who once performed as a fire-eater and juggler, Judkins has emerged as the largest purveyor of Mexican workers for the $500 million-a-year carnival industry. He is among a growing number of brokers who have become experts in securing visas and helping U.S. companies find cheap foreign labor. Continuación...