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25 Dec 2021

Michael Sainato, The Guardian

USA: Criminal investigation reveals worker exploitation in U.S. farming industry

"‘A lot of abuse for little pay’: how US farming profits from exploitation and brutality," 25 Dec. 2021

... The indictments characterized the operation as “modern-day slavery”, a longstanding problem in the US agricultural industry where workers were smuggled from Central American countries to the US and imprisoned as contracted farm workers.

Farmworkers in the US, especially immigrant workers, have few protections. They were excluded from the National Labor Relations Act passed in 1935, and from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Workers in America’s agricultural fields are regularly subjected to abuses ranging from high occurrences of sexual assault and harassment, wage theft and safety issues including injuries, fatalities on the job and exposure to hazardous chemicals.

The investigation, Operation Blooming Onion, found the conspirators forced workers to pay fees for transportation to the US, food, and housing through the H2-A work visa program, while withholding their travel and identification documents and forcing them to work for little to no pay in inhumane living conditions.

... The H2-A visa program is an often-used avenue for exploitation of migrant workers in the US, as it ties immigration status to employment on a temporary basis with no pathways to permanent citizenship. Many of these workers are forced to take on debt to recruiters to enter the H2-A visa program, with several cases of debt peonage, forced labor and human trafficking reported through the program.

“It’s really the structure of the program that facilitates this kind of stuff happening, often with impunity,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute.