Throughout the nation, there is a worker shortage. There are not enough people to fill jobs.
To help with the shortage, the federal H-2A visa program, which allows seasonal farm laborers to work for specific employers, is extremely important.
However, the program needs to be better monitored to protect the employees coming into America.
The urgent need for this was shown following the unsealing of the federal case involving five people who were indicted in charges of forced labor and abuse of workers who were part of the H-2A visa program.
The indicted are: Saul Garcia, 49; Saul Garcia, Jr., 26; Daniel Garcia, 28; Consuelo Garcia, 45; and Maria Remedios Garcia-Olalde, 52. They face several charges including forced labor, trafficking in peonage, slavery and involuntary servitude. The indictment, made in the Eastern Wisconsin District of U.S. District Court, was unsealed earlier this year.
Following the unsealing of the indictment, Wisconsin Watch, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative reporting organization, published a report detailing some of the abuse of the H-2 visa recipients.
The story told of how workers were forced to pay a fee and turn over the deed to property to an intermediary in Mexico as security for continued work.
They were told they couldn’t talk to any strangers.
The indictment also alleges that while working in Wisconsin farms in Kenosha and Racine counties, prosecutors said the workers were cramped into a hotel, often four men to a room, and sometimes had to sleep on the floor. Beginning at 6 a.m., four yellow school buses would take them to work, according to prosecutors.
You have free articles remaining.
The workers were sometimes denied water during hot days, worked 12-hour shifts six or seven days a week with only 30-minute lunch breaks, and were denied medical care or punished when they sought it themselves, according to a document prosecutors filed to support the defendants’ detention.
According to the Wisconsin Watch investigation, a 2013 Wisconsin Department of Justice assessment found that labor trafficking in the state “often goes unnoticed or not officially investigated because of lack of resources, lack of training, or inability to investigate due to the transient nature of the crime.”
In the Wisconsin Watch report, Catherine Chen, chief program officer of Polaris, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-trafficking group, explained that labor trafficking remains little understood compared to sex trafficking. The victims of labor trafficking are often afraid to report it to the police.
“To better reach victims, law enforcement can build relationships with community leaders and community organizations who may be more likely to hear about labor abuses,” she said. “Law enforcement can also make reporting procedures more accessible in various languages.”
There are windows of opportunity to spot signs of labor trafficking. Health problems, wage complaints and situations in which workers are prevented access to outsiders are all possible signs of trafficking, Chen said.
Ben Jedd, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, said his department is “evaluating our current programs and providing educational awareness to our employees” to better detect labor trafficking.
That is a good start. That scrutiny needs to continue.
Jobs need to be done and the workers who come to America to take those jobs should not be abused or taken advantage of just because no one is watching. The program needs to be watched better and the workers need to be protected.