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Protection of Workers

United States Report on Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
  Initial Country Report (Sept, 2000). 

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Vernellia R. Randall
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Protection of  foreign workers, especially migrants, seasonal and transient workers. In April 1998, the Attorney General announced the creation of an inter-agency Worker Exploitation Task Force, co-chaired by the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice and the Solicitor of the Department of Labor. Using existing federal criminal laws, including 18 U.S.C. sec. 1584 (Involuntary Servitude), sec. 1581 (Peonage), sec. 894 (Extortionate Collection of Debt), sec. 1951 (Extortionate Interference with Commerce), and several other statutes governing labor practices, smuggling and related offenses, the Task Force coordinates the investigation and prosecution of worker exploitation cases throughout the United States. These cases often involve the recruitment and smuggling of foreign nationals into the United States for forced labor and prostitution, and the exploitation of migrant farm workers, sweatshop laborers and other workers. The Task Force also promotes outreach and public education on the subject to increase awareness. Some examples of recent cases include:

In United States v. Miguel Flores, et al. (D. S.C. 1997), four defendants were successfully prosecuted for smuggling farm laborers into South Carolina and Florida from Guatemala and Mexico and exploiting them through the use of fear and intimidation. While working in labor camps, the victim workers were threatened, subjected to occasional beatings, and told that if they attempted to leave before paying off their smuggling fees they would be killed.

In United States v. Carrie Mae Bonds, et al. (E.D. N.C. 1993), Black homeless men in Atlanta were recruited by the defendant, a farm labor contractor, to work as migrant farm laborers in North and South Carolina. When the victims arrived at the labor camps they were told that they were already indebted to the defendant for their transportation and meals. The workers were also held at gunpoint and told that they could not leave the camps. The matter was resolved through a successful prosecution by the Department of Justice.

The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice was involved in the successful prosecution of eight Thai nationals who enticed citizens from Thailand to travel to the United States by promising the victims high wages, good hours and freedom. Upon arrival in the United States, the Thai laborers were transported to a work compound where they were confined and forced to work up to 20 hours at a time. The victims were housed in an apartment complex in El Monte, California, surrounded by razor wire and spiked fences and guarded by full-time guards. Threats were used against the victims and their families to force the workers to remain in the El Monte compound.

News reports of an extensive, multi-state slavery ring of Mexican nationals, who are both deaf and unable to speak, resulted in charges brought by the United States against 20 defendants for recruiting and smuggling approximately 60 Mexican nationals to the United States with the promises of good jobs and for the purposes of exploiting and abusing them for profit. The Mexican nationals were forced to work under conditions of servitude peddling key chain trinkets on the streets and subways of New York City. All of the defendants pleaded guilty.

The Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) is the only office in the Federal government whose sole mission is to protect against workplace discrimination associated with citizenship status. OSC investigates allegations of national origin discrimination involving small employers (defined as having fewer than fifteen employees). OSC vigorously investigates and prosecutes charges of discrimination to ensure that legally authorized workers, often immigrants and refugees, are not discriminated against by employers. OSC works in partnership with state, local and federal civil rights enforcement agencies and with non-governmental entities around the nation to educate workers, employers and the general public about their rights and responsibilities under the immigration laws. It has obtained almost $2 million in back pay for victimized workers and fined violators over $1.4 million since 1987. OSC has obtained relief, for example, for a United States citizen who was denied the opportunity to apply for a clerk-typist position at a New York City law firm because of her Spanish accent; for a native-born Hispanic U.S. citizen poultry plant worker in Arkansas, who was denied a job because the employer thought she was not a U.S. citizen because she spoke Spanish and had received medical treatment in Mexico; for immigrant workers retaliated against by their employers for filing unfair employment practice charges; and for a Puerto Rican woman who was asked to show her green card to obtain a job at a New York manufacturing company despite the fact that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens at birth. OSC cases have been brought successfully against Fortune 100 companies as well as small employers in all industries, including airlines, apparel, agriculture, food and restaurants, and high-skilled professions.

The United Nations and some human rights advocates have raised concerns about enforcement of federal laws against unauthorized migrants entering the United States. In particular, some argue that increased enforcement efforts along traditional border-crossing routes at the U.S.-Mexico border have resulted in illegal crossing attempts at more dangerous points. This, they allege, has resulted in increased injury and fatalities at the southern border of the United States. In an effort to reduce migrant deaths and make the border safer for migrants, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), in conjunction with the Government of Mexico, implemented the Border Safety Initiative in June 1998. Through deploying more agents and mobile units at the most hazardous crossing points, providing agents with safety equipment and training, deploying search and rescue teams, and expanding public outreach programs, the INS has significantly enhanced border safety.

Other complaints have focused upon the high percentage of removals of individuals to Mexico as compared to the home countries of other individuals who enter the United States illegally or overstay their visas. Also, detention conditions and mandatory detention policies enacted in 1996 have been the focus of concerns.


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