Things That Matter

Two Cases Out Of California Are Highlighting The Growing Issue Of Migrants Being Used As Forced Labor

A Hayward contractor was sentenced last week to more than eight years in prison after a federal jury convicted him of recruiting workers to illegally come from Mexico and work for little or no pay. The man, Job Torres Hernandez, who also goes by Joe Torres, was ordered to pay nearly $920,000 in unpaid wages. According to KRON4, Torres forced immigrants to live in terrible conditions and at times made employees “work for as long as 24 consecutive hours at a time.”

Many are now asking how did this happen and how did Torres get away with it?

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This all started as back as May 2015 when Torres’ construction companies knowingly recruited and hired illegal workers from Mexico. Prosecutors say Torres kept dozens of the undocumented workers on make-do beds in a commercial warehouse, that included a small garage.

Conditions were abysmal as workers had to deal with limited access to toilets and showers. Sometimes the warehouse and garage were locked to stop workers from leaving. According to witnesses, when workers would complain about pay and living conditions, Torres threatened to deport them and their families.

Torres would be convicted of obtaining forced labor and of harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage.

Credit: @KPIXtv / Twitter

“Undocumented immigrant communities within the United States—often times and evident in this case—are commonly preyed upon by transnational criminal organizations and inhumane criminals, like Torres, who are motivated by greed by exploiting vulnerable people,” Ryan L. Spradlin, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge (San Francisco and Northern California) told KRON4.

Defense attorneys said in court that Torres, who had a second-grade education in Mexico, was presumably illiterate. They say that he did not comprehend business practices and only offered workers to stay in the warehouse since there was no other place to stay.

The prosecution didn’t buy the story. Torres will now spend up to eight and a half years in prison and pay back the unpaid wages to 13 workers.

“It’s important to know that Homeland Security Investigations does not initiate an investigation because of someone’s citizenship. We initiate an investigation because of alleged criminal activity,” Spradlin said. “It does not matter to us whether a person is undocumented. It’s our job to help victims and bring criminals to justice.”

This news comes after another case of forced work upon an undocumented migrant was revealed in Northern California.

Credit: @FBISacramento / Twitter

Nery Martinez, 50, and Maura Martinez, 50, of Shasta Lake, CA, are being charged with conspiracy, forced labor and alien harboring for financial gain. The couple allegedly brought a Guatemalan woman and her two daughters, both minors, to the U.S. using temporary visitor visas in 2016. They would be harbored and after their visas expired, forced them to work long hours at a restaurant and cleaning service for little to no pay.

The Guatemalan family was imposed a false $12,000 debt to keep them from returning to Guatemala. They were also abused multiple times, threatened with arrest and physical violence that included the two girls being struck with a stick.

According to the indictment, the stopped in February 2018 but authorities have yet to say what happened to the woman and her daughters afterward. If the couple faces charges which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if fully convicted.

READ: Migrant Youth Share Their Experience With Abuse At Detention Centers In Harrowing Letters

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9-Year-Old Migrant Girl Drowns While Trying to Cross the Rio Grande in the U.S.

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9-Year-Old Migrant Girl Drowns While Trying to Cross the Rio Grande in the U.S.

Photo via Getty Images

On March 20th, U.S. Border Patrol agents found a 9-year-old migrant girl unresponsive along with her mother and sibling on an island in the Rio Grande.

U.S. Border Patrol agents attempted to resuscitate the family. The agents were able to revive the mother and her younger, 3-year-old child. The Border Patrol agents transferred the 9-year-old migrant girl to emergency medics in emergency medics in Eagle Pass, Texas, but she remained unresponsive.

In the end, the 9-year-old migrant girl died–the cause of death being drowning.

The mother of the two children was Guatemalan while the two children were born in Mexico.

The death of the 9-year-old migrant girl is notable because this is the first migrant child death recorded in this current migration surge. And experts worry that it won’t be the last.

And while this is the first child death, it is not the only migrant who has died trying to make it across the border. On Wednesday, a Cuban man drowned while trying to swim across the border between Tijuana and San Diego. He was the second migrant to drown in just a two-week period.

Why is this happening?

According to some reports, the reason so many migrants are heading towards the U.S. right now is “because President Trump is gone”. They believe they have a better chance of claiming asylum in the U.S.

Another factor to take into consideration is that a large number of these migrants are unaccompanied minors. According to migrant services volunteer Ruben Garcia, Title 42 is actually having the opposite effect of its intent. President Trump enacted Title 42 to prevent immigration during COVID-19 for “safety reasons”.

“Families that have been expelled multiple times that are traveling with children,” Garcia told PBS News Hour. “Some of them are making the decision to send their children in by themselves, because they have families someplace in the U.S., and they know their children will be released to them.”

Is there a “border crisis”?

That depends on who you ask. According to some experts, the numbers of migrants heading to the U.S./Mexico border aren’t out-of-the-ordinary considering the time of year and the fact that COVID-19 made traveling last year virtually impossible.

According to Tom Wong of the University of California at San Diego’s U.S. Immigration Policy Center, there is no “border crisis”. “This year looks like the usual seasonal increase, plus migrants who would have come last year but could not,” Wong says.

As the Washington Post explained: “What we’re seeing right now is a predictable seasonal shift. When the numbers drop again in June and July, policymakers may be tempted to claim that their deterrence policies succeeded.”

What is the Biden Administration planning on doing about it?

As of now, it is pretty evident that the Biden Administration has not been handling this migrant surge well, despite ample warning from experts. As of now, President Biden has put Vice President Harris in charge of handling the issues at the border.

As of now, the game plan is still very vague. But in the past, the Biden Administration has stated that they plan to fix the migrant surge at the source. That means providing more aid to Central America in order to prevent further corruption of elected officials.

They also want to put in place a plan that processes children and minors as refugees in their own countries before they travel to the U.S. The government had not tested these plans and they may take years to implement. Here’s to hoping that these changes will prevent a case like the death of the 9-year-old migrant girl.

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Biden Administration’s Handling Of The Border Criticized By Both Sides Of The Aisle

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Biden Administration’s Handling Of The Border Criticized By Both Sides Of The Aisle

The Biden administration inherited more than an out of control pandemic when they got to work in January. The former administration also left the Biden administration an orchestrated crisis at the border. For some, President Joe Biden is not acting fast enough to fix the problem.

President Biden announced that Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the response to immigration at the border.

The approach, according to Politico, is going to be a two-pronged approach to effectively curb irregular immigration. First, the vice president will focus on stopping the migration journey by addressing the issues in the countries that people are fleeing. Particularly, Vice President Harris will be focusing on the issues in the Northern Triangle countries, which are El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

At the same time, the vice president will be working with the countries directly to solve the root problems. Vice President Harris will be working to strengthen the nation’s relations with Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

“I can think of nobody who is better qualified to do this,” President Biden told reporters at the White House.

There is a lot of talk about the U.S.-Mexico border right now from both Democrats and Republicans.

Bruno Lozano, the Democratic mayor of Del Rio, Texas, is calling on the Biden administration to take steps to curb the issue. Mayor Lozano was a guest on Fox News recently and spoke about what he saw as an influx of migrants coming into his town. Mayor Lozano told Fox News that the number of people coming to the border has strained Customs and Border Patrol in his city.

“You have a breach on national security levels that have never before been seen in modern history and you’re not even batting an eye about it, you’re not even calling it a ‘crisis‘, you’re calling it a quote-unquote challenge,” Mayor Lozano, told the New York Post on Sunday. “It’s a slap in the face.”

Some residents of Del Rio are critical of their local leaders shifting blame for their own shortcomings.

The brutal winter storm that recently shut down Texas depleted many municipalities of their resources. Residents in Del Rio are putting the blame on their local leaders who have tried to pass the buck. Weeks after the winter storm crippled Texas, grocery store shelves remained empty and residents felt overlooked.

Mayor Lozano has been pleading with President Biden to step up and help them deal with the influx of migrants. Del Rio has one processing center for migrants and the increase has left the city and the processing facility strained.

The Biden administration has faced backlash after photos of detention centers show people sleeping on floors.

There have been several reports that the Biden administration is building new places to hold migrants that have come to the border seeking asylum. The administration is currently taking in unaccompanied minors who are arriving at the border while preventing other migrants from crossing the border.

The Biden administration promised to change the approach to the border, but Title 42 has been left intact. Title 42, which was enacted by the former administration at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, keeps people from entering the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order that invoked Title 42, which closed the border indefinitely due to public health concerns.

At the root of the attention is the claim that there is a surge of migrants.

Some Republican politicians are claiming that news of more lenient immigration laws is prompting a “surge” of arrivals. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California claims that what is happening is a “crisis … created by the presidential policies of this new administration.”

Yet, a Washington Post report debunks the idea that there is a sudden surge. Rather, what is happening, according to the report, is a usual seasonal trend. CBP has reported a 28 percent increase in apprehensions at the southern border in January and February but data shows an annual spike in migrants from March to May every year.

The issues on the border are complex and will require a lot of time and energy to handle effectively and compassionately. The Biden administration promised to tackle the complex issue of immigration during the campaign.

READ: Biden Is Counting On Mexico’s President To Help With Immigration But That’s A Risky Move

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