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New law expected to protect migrant workers

December 24, 2008
Brownsville Herald
Source …..

A new law is expected to help protect migrant laborers lured to the United States on false promises and left with little legal recourse.

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 allows foreign labor recruiters to be prosecuted for fraud when they fail to provide promised wages or working conditions. Currently, such cases are difficult to prosecute unless there’s a clear violation of mail or wire fraud laws, said attorneys with the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center.

The legislation passed the House and Senate on Dec. 10 and was signed into law by President Bush on Tuesday.

“These immigrant workers too often end up in deplorable work conditions after paying thousands of dollars to recruiters who promised high-paying jobs and U.S. citizenship,” said Mary Bauer, director of SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “This bill is a good first step to protecting workers who are exploited simply because they sought a better life.”

Workers sometimes are lured by false promises of permanent U.S. residency, she said. They pay tens of thousands of dollars to obtain temporary jobs only to be forced into substandard working and living conditions.

The Wilberforce legislation targets employers who hire from outside of the United States, preying on vulnerable groups of laborers. But its protections also extend to legal U.S. residents, many of whom live along the border and are vulnerable to the scams of seasonal employers.

On Monday, a lawsuit was filed in a McAllen district court against Pioneer Hi-Bred International, an Iowa-based agricultural company, that allegedly failed to provide 51 McAllen residents with adequate living and working conditions on an Iowa farm.

The lawsuit alleges that workers were held in “migrant labor camps” and paid only a fraction of their promised wages.

The Wilberforce bill authorizes appropriations for fiscal years 2008 through 2011.

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