Veterans of the bracero program who worked between Jan. 1, 1942, and Dec. 31, 1946, areeligible to apply to recover wages withheld fromthem by the government of Mexico during that period.

Veterans of the bracero program who worked between Jan. 1, 1942, and Dec. 31, 1946, areeligible to apply to recover wages withheld fromthem by the government of Mexico during that period.

They must apply by Jan. 5, 2009.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of the Northern District of California last month granted preliminary approval of a settlement to a class action lawsuit filed April 5, 2001, by former braceros who sought to recover the wages that were withheld for placement in savings funds that were never returned to them.

They had 10 percent of their wages withheld by U.S. employers which was then forwarded to the government of Mexico to be paid to them upon their return to Mexico. The complaint alleged the savings funds were never paid and were misappropriated by the Mexican government.

The settlement provides for payments to braceros or their surviving family members who reside in the U.S. and who can provide original documents to show that they or a deceased parent or spouse worked as a bracero from 1942 to 1946.

Under the agreement, the Mexican government will provide a payment to braceros, or their surviving spouses or children, of 38,000 pesos — roughly $3,500.

"We were swindled — we never got any of that money," said Medford resident George Ortiz, who arrived as a bracero in the Rogue Valley in 1943.

"I went to Mexico in 1946 and tried to get it," he said. "I couldn't get it. They didn't have it. They didn't know where it was."

Unfortunately, Ortiz lost his paperwork that proved he was part of the program during that trip.

"I lost it with some photographs I took to show my mother," he said. "You have to be able to prove you worked here at that time."

Ortiz hopes other braceros or their families can collect on their share of the money taken from their pay more than half a century ago.

"They earned it — they deserve to get it back," he said.

All claims must be presented in person to a Mexican Consulate office or the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., by the January deadline.

"The braceros played a vital role in maintaining our economy and agricultural production during World War II," said co-counsel Kelly Dermody of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP in a statement after the settlement was announced.

"This settlement reflects vindication for the braceros and their families who struggled to bring these issues to light for many, many years," Dermody added.

For more information or assistance in applying, visit the Caso Bracero Web site at www.casobracero.com, call the toll-free Caso Bracero hotline at 1-877-436-9359 or send a letter to Caso Bracero, P.O. Box 641610, Chicago, IL 60664-1610.

The nearest Mexican Consulate is in Portland. It can be reached at 1234 S.W. Morrison, Portland, OR 97205, or by phone at 503-274-1450.