Migrant Workers Are Exploited in America Too

The treatment of migrant workers was highlighted during the World Cup in Qatar, where many temporary foreign workers reportedly died while building infrastructure for the event.

Advocates for immigrant workers in the US note that abuses do not only occur abroad.

“The thing is, migrant workers in the U.S. are dealing with many of the same issues that those workers faced in Qatar,” Julia Taylor, executive director of the National Farmworker Ministry, which is headquartered in North Carolina, told the Voice. .

Those problems include “forced labor due to extreme heat waves, wage theft, poor housing, lack of access to health care, lack of personal protective equipment,” Taylor said. “The tragedy in Qatar should not be allowed to happen, and it is also an important opportunity to remind Americans of the tragedies happening in our own backyard.”

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In some states and local jurisdictions, government agencies and advocacy organizations may refer to the progress of migrant workers. For example, in New York last year, farmworkers, many of whom are foreign-born temporary workers, won the right to collective bargaining, which will allow them to better advocate for higher wages and better working conditions.

And last month in New Orleans, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division renewed a contract with the Mexican consulate to provide Spanish-speaking workers in Louisiana and Mississippi with information about their rights in the United States and access to training. , such as employee safety training.

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“By working with the Mexican Consulate, we are improving our ability to ensure that both employers and employees understand their responsibilities and rights,” Troy Mouton, director of the New Orleans, Louisiana District Wage and Hour Division, told Balsa.

It is hoped the agreement will reduce wage abuse against vulnerable workers on the fringes of society by helping these workers understand their employers’ legal obligation to pay them.

Despite such steps, advocates insist much more needs to be done.

Essential employees

According to a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center, there are approximately 12 million migrant workers in America at any given time, some authorized and others not. Labor groups say America’s current labor shortage, with millions of unfilled jobs, would be worse without migrant and temporary workers.

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“Migrant workers contribute to almost every sector of the economy,” explained Shannon Lederer, director of immigration policy for the AFL-CIO trade union federation, “and they are also used in every industry and every wage level. This is a total crisis.”

Mouton says temporary foreign workers have played an indispensable role in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast region in recent years. This, he said, highlighted the need to renew the contract with the Mexican consulate to help protect the rights of these workers.

FILE - An agricultural worker puts grapes into plastic bags in Teviston, Calif., on Oct. 21, 2021.

FILE – An agricultural worker puts grapes into plastic bags in Teviston, Calif., on Oct. 21, 2021.

“In recent history, the single most significant event that caused an increase in migrant workers in Louisiana was Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” he said, recalling the infamous storm that flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and killed more than 1,800 people. “The majority of our migrant workers came from Mexico and other Central American countries, and their post-storm efforts in debris removal, demolition and ultimately reconstruction have made a huge impact on our city.”

Similar efforts followed later hurricanes such as Laura, Delta and last year’s Hurricane Ida, but Mouton said the contribution of migrant workers goes far beyond disaster relief.

“The majority of migrant workers in Louisiana contribute to the construction, agriculture and seafood processing industries, all of which are important to Louisiana’s economy,” he said, adding that it’s an ongoing battle “to protect the welfare of these workers” and achieve “compliance with federal labor standards.” .

Terrible conditions

Amy Liebman, chief program officer of the Migrant Clinicians Network, headquartered in Texas, believes the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how important migrant workers are to America and its economy. According to her, this should make the conditions of these workers even more terrible for the nation.

“75 miles away [120-kilometer] we have 10 chicken processing plants within a radius of where I live and there are a lot of migrant workers doing this hard work,” she told the voice. “During the peak of Covid-19, it was the workers who worked all day in tight spaces who got sick and died from the virus, and they sickened their families.”

Liebman added, “But there’s a fear, and it’s a very valid one, that if you complain to your boss, you’re not only going to be fired, you’re going to be deported.”

Immigrant advocates like Liebman and Lederer say understanding why workers come to the U.S. in the first place can shed light on their desperate situation. People are often drawn away from their home country by “push factors” such as war, violence, political instability and natural disasters – or “pull factors” such as the demand for cheap labor in the United States.

“When you have people who are desperate to leave home or come here so they can send money back home to family, you have a situation where those workers can be exploited, and that’s exactly what’s happening,” Lederer of the AFL. – the CIO said.

“You have recruiters in the United States who find workers in other countries and demand payment from them for the right to work in the United States,” Lederer continued. “So now these workers when they arrive are in debt, making them more desperate for their jobs. And their visa is tied to one employer, so if they complain about overcrowded housing or if they say something about not being paid time, their employer can fire them and they will be sent back to their home country.

Challenges of the 21st century and the need for comprehensive solutions

Liebman said a warming climate adds to the problems of migrant workers, who often work outside in increasingly hot and dangerous conditions. This can increase health problems and complicate the problems that many face.

“Getting good health care as an immigrant is already a challenge, but now their work has a migratory nature added to it,” Liebman explained. “Every time you move to something new, you have to take the time to relearn everything. Who will take care of you and your family? Where is the Community Health Center? How will you get there? How will you pay? In regions with high numbers of migrant workers, community health centers are often stretched beyond their capacity, so what can be done?

While immigrants support progress in some jurisdictions, they say federal action is needed to meaningfully improve conditions for migrant workers.

“This is an emergency and we need to get serious about finding real solutions,” Lederer said, adding that comprehensive reform of America’s immigration system would be a good start. “If we’re going to create a country that’s friendly to the workforce our economy needs, the focus must be on long-term solutions that allow immigrants to come to this country permanently and with the ability to change jobs once they’re here.”


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