Ending Labor Trafficking of Migrant Guest Workers in the United States
U.S. businesses say they urgently need workers – particularly in agriculture – to keep the economy running by filling jobs they can’t get anyone else to take. But the program that allows them to hire workers from overseas for temporary jobs is so badly designed and poorly enforced that the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline routinely hears from migrant workers who are in this country legally and are being exploited or trafficked. Unlike many other complex and seemingly intractable problems, this is one we truly do know how to solve. The system can, in fact, work for everyone. Right now, it is working for traffickers.
Our economy relies on workers from around the world who come here to fill jobs American businesses say they can’t fill otherwise. We owe it to these workers to enforce our own rules and protect their rights.
Since 2015, the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline has learned of more than 4,816 likely victims of labor trafficking who held legal, temporary work visas. They came to this country – most to work in agriculture – and instead of the good-paying jobs they were promised faced abuse and wage theft. Data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline shows the pandemic made the problem even worse – despite the fact that these workers were more essential than ever. They were threatened with deportation if they complained, or trapped in debt for fees they never should have paid in the first place. The patterns in this kind of trafficking are very clear, and so are the solutions.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING SITUATIONS
January 2015 – December 2020
HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIMS
January 2015 – December 2020
The Plan to End Labor Trafficking
We will end the labor trafficking of migrant guest workers by giving those workers the tools they need to protect and advocate for themselves and shifting the balance of power that makes them easy targets for exploitation.
Ending the current system of tied visas that bind workers to one employer by changing the laws that govern migrant worker visa programs.
Empowering migrant workers by increasing access to information about illegal fees and fraudulent recruitment advertisements.
Changing the standards of behavior for employers and recruiters through instituting a variety of accountability and enforcement measures and incentives.
Why Migrant Farmworkers
Our focus on empowering migrant farmworkers to protect their own rights grew out of data that showed the labor trafficking cases we learned about from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline disproportionately involved victims who were in this country legally on temporary work visas. These visas are supposed to be regulated by the U.S. government in order to ensure both our economy – which relies on migrant workers – and the rights of these workers – are protected. Unfortunately, the regulations are badly designed and infrequently enforced. Changing that system is a logical path to doing the greatest good for the greatest number of labor trafficking victims and potential victims in the United States – most of whom originally come from Mexico.
This report analyzes data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline and exposes the types of trafficking in which people from Latin American and the Caribbean are victimized in the United States.
The United States temporary work visa system is badly broken. From 2015-2017, Polaris identified some 800 victims of human trafficking who held temporary visas at the time of their abuse. This report highlights the destructive practice of labor trafficking on temporary work visas, how the system is flawed, and the steps we need to take to fix it.
This report gathers information on labor trafficking cases in Mexico, reports on the social composition of victims and the characteristics of the populations that are most at risk, and suggests ways to develop comprehensive approaches to contribute to its eradication.
Farmworkers Speak for Themselves
The people who get trafficked in the farms and fields of both Mexico and of the United States, have been ignored and left to fend for themselves against unscrupulous labor practices for generations. Poor labor conditions and trafficking were considered normal in many situations.
The first iteration of this work was a small pilot project in the isolated farming community of San Luis Potosi. That effort tested the idea that with the right equipment, we could simultaneously survey this isolated community of workers and provide them with information to help them protect their own rights. This is the findings of that pilot project.
Based on what we learned on the ground with technology partner Ulula, we built a unique platform that allows farmworkers and advocates to communicate safety. The farmworkers can share their experiences and organizations on the ground can learn from those experiences and share information with the workers to help them understand their rights and advocate for themselves.
Workers' Rights and Information
The first step in ensuring workers’ rights is making it clear to workers that they have legal protections from exploitation and abuse. Information sharing with workers is not enough, ultimately, to end abuse. That will only happen when there is real accountability for exploiters and workers have real power to defend themselves. But ensuring that workers know they have rights in the first place – and employers have the tools they need to do the right thing – is a key first step.
This Spanish-language toolkit provides critical information and resources on human and labor rights for workers with H-2A visas. Although this toolkit was created for a specific visa holder group working in the United States, it is also relevant for those with other temporary work visas or who do not have an official immigration status.
This English-language toolkit provides businesses with detailed information to help them ensure they are living up to their legal and ethical responsibilities as employers of migrant workers.