Second verse, same as the first. H-2A agricultural workers from Mexico are suing their domestic employers for unpaid wages. Allegations include failure to reimburse for the costs of obtaining their visas (as had been promised), the promised wage rate in their contract not matching what they were actually paid, and failure to pay overtime. Additionally, they were assigned to work on tasks not articulated in their contract, such as home repairs and yard work. All of these are clear violations of the H-2A program’s requirements, and if true, mean we should add this employer to a long list of those who simply could not find American workers willing to get paid less than their worth for more and different work than that for which they signed up.
The violations and abuse in the H-2A program keep piling up. We have recently seen a guilty plea for conspiracy to commit forced labor. Also, as linked above, we have seen allegations of wage price fixing, threats of violence, and squalid living conditions. The Department of Labor (DOL) recovered back pay of $131,000 and penalized an agricultural employer abusing H-2A workers. While all of this is going on, Congress keeps banging the drum for expanding H-2A.
As the abuse, wage theft, and slavery piles up, it is difficult to imagine the obsession of lawmakers with loosening the labor protections and expanding the number of aliens tossed into the black hole that is the H-2A program. Reducing the numbers to a reasonable amount that can be properly regulated seems a much more appropriate focus. This clear pattern of abuse rife within H-2A demonstrates that unscrupulous employers do not fear being caught, and that exploitation is standard operating procedure for many. The fact that some are caught does not mean the system is working, but rather that some employers are just more brazen or unlucky than others.
The Center for Migrants’ Rights issued a report that stated: “...our data show that every worker interviewed, even those most satisfied with their experience, suffered at least one serious legal violation of their rights. And 94% of those surveyed experienced three or more serious legal violations.”
There can be no doubt that this is not a case of some sporadic bad apple employers. This is widespread abuse and exploitation of migrant workers within a program Congress seeks only to expand further by loosening restrictions and explicitly forcing aliens to remain in the program for years as a condition of permanent residence.
Part and parcel of this clear pattern of abuse and exploitation is the explanation for why American workers are a shrinking portion of the agricultural workforce. Put simply, American workers are more difficult to exploit, as they are perceived as less vulnerable because their presence in the United States is not dependent on suffering in silence. Of course, that is a double-edged sword, because being less vulnerable makes you less marketable in a labor market flooded with helpless migrants on the chopping block.
This is why DOL certified six times as many H-2A jobs in FY21 as they did in FY05. Despite the growth in the H-2A program, and the fact that there is no cap on the number of H-2A visas issued, the number of illegal immigrants in the agricultural workforce is high. Around 75 percent of the agricultural workforce overall are immigrants, with some estimating close to half are here illegally. Given the extensive abuse of legal H-2A migrants, can you imagine what is going on with the illegal workforce?
American workers are losing interest in agricultural work because the employers are more interested in the reduction of labor cost through violating labor laws. They hire people not authorized to work, and even when they use the legal process, those workers end up with stolen wages and tales of abuse and/or forced labor. The answer cannot be that Congress endorses the status quo that makes our food supply dependent on exploitation and abuse. Yet that is currently the bipartisan consensus in Washington. This will only leave us with fewer and fewer American workers with an opportunity to work and more and more foreign workers being exploited.
JARED CULVER is a Legal Analyst for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, May 11th 2023 @ 3:23pm EDT