By PATRICIA SULBARÁN, FERNANDA ECHAVARRI and TINA VASQUEZ
Every year, hundreds of thousands of foreign workers come to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs under the government-sponsored H-2A visa program. But instead of finding safe jobs to support their families back home, many farmworkers end up getting deceived and abused.
In the second and last episode of “Head Down,” a two-part special from Futuro Investigates and Latino USA, in collaboration with Prism, we shift the focus to look at the systems put in place by the U.S. government and why they’re constantly failing workers in the H-2A visa program, even when they speak up.
At the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last year, President Joe Biden outlined his plan to reduce the number of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border. His administration would help “American farmers bring in seasonal agricultural workers from Northern Central American countries under the H-2A visa program.”
But what does that mean for a program that’s already plagued with wage theft and abuse?
According to the government’s own data, agriculture is one of the top low-wage, high-violation industries in the U.S, with nearly 11,000 H-2A employer violations in FY 2022.
In this episode, we test the U.S. government’s mechanisms to help H-2A workers victims of abuse, and hear from a government official directly involved in efforts to give stolen wages back to workers, who’s surprisingly candid about the program’s deep flaws.
We also examine how these patterns of abuse and irregularities directly correlate with the origins of the agricultural industry in the United States. H-2A visas were modeled after the Bracero Program, a seasonal farm worker program developed during World War II, which was known for its systemic discrimination and wage theft of Mexican farm workers.
We also follow two brothers from Guanajuato who worked for the largest blueberry producer in the country as H-2A workers in 2017. Six years later, they’re still suffering the consequences of speaking up against their former U.S. employer.
For more on this investigation, visit futuroinvestigates.org