U.S. Violates International Law by Failing to Enforce Laws Protecting Rights of Mexican Workers
K. Abel, Brennan
Center for Justice
U.S. Departments of Labor and Homeland Security
Each Point to the Other as Being Responsible
New York – Using a procedure set up in the labor side
agreement to NAFTA, a group of Mexican workers, and Mexican and U.S.
organizations, have submitted a document to the Mexican government detailing
the frequent exploitation of workers brought into the U.S. by their employers on
temporary work visas, and the failure of the U.S. government to enforce even
the most basic of the workers' employment rights. The submission follows up on a complaint the
workers filed in 2005. The workers
complain of suffering brutal physical injury, stolen wages, and unsafe housing. They describe their inability to enforce
their rights through the federal and state labor departments, and to obtain access
to the civil legal aid they need to seek redress.
In response to the workers' initial
complaint, last October the Mexican government asked the United States
government sixty-nine sets of detailed questions regarding the extent to which state
and federal laws, courts and agencies protect the employment rights of the
workers, all of whom were lawfully present in the U.S. on "H2-B" temporary visas
for unskilled, non-agricultural workers.
The questions include how many H2-B workers have complained of
violations of their labor rights, how state and federal agencies investigate those
complaints, how H2-B workers are able to access free legal aid, and how the
government ensures that they are not subjected to forced labor.
The workers' response explains that
although the federal Departments of Labor and Homeland Security are charged
with administering the H-2B visa program, neither accepts responsibility for
ensuring that employers live up to the promises they make to the workers they
recruit. Moreover, although the
Department of Labor does pursue some worker complaints regarding wage and hour
violations, it is slow to act. Alarmingly,
this spring the Department of Labor proposed regulations to further weaken its
ability to protect the rights of H-2B workers.
The workers bringing the complaints
have substantial support in the U.S.
and Mexico. Five U.S. organizations and six Mexican
organizations joined their complaint. Representing the workers and the
supporting organizations are Laura Abel, Deputy Director at the Brennan Center
for Justice at NYU School of Law; Michael Dale, Executive Director of the
Northwest Workers' Justice Project in Portland, Oregon; and Maria Andrade of
the Andrade Law Office of Boise, Idaho.
The workers brought their complaint
and the Mexican government has now responded, because the governing agreement between
the U.S., Canada and Mexico allows aggrieved workers to complain to any signatory
nation other than the one charged with violating the agreement. The agreement guarantees migrant workers who
are in the U.S.
legally the ability to enforce their labor rights, access to courts, and fair
workers' complaints, and the Mexican government's response, click here.