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?

Credit: @EastBayTimes / Twitter

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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Report Shows That Immigration Narratives On TV Are Latinx-Focused And Over-Emphasize Crime

Entertainment

Report Shows That Immigration Narratives On TV Are Latinx-Focused And Over-Emphasize Crime

The media advocacy group Define American recently released a study that focused on the way immigrant characters are depicted on television. The second-annual study is entitled “Change the Narrative, Change the World”.

Although the study reports progress in some areas of onscreen representation, there is still a long way to go.

For example, the study reported that half of the immigrant characters depicted on television are Latino, which is consistent with reality. What is not consistent with reality, however, is how crime-related storylines are still an overrepresented theme in these storylines.

The study shows that on television 22% of immigrant characters have crime storylines show up as part of their narratives. These types of storylines further pedal the false narrative that immigrants are criminals, when in reality, they’re just everyday people who are trying to lives their best lives. Ironically, this statistic is an improvement on the previous year’s statistics in which crime themes made up 34% of immigrants’ stories on TV.

These numbers are further proof that the media feels stories of Latino immigration have to be about sadness and hardship in order to be worth watching.

According to Define American’s website, their organization believes that “powerful storytelling is the catalyst that can reshape our country’s immigration narrative and generate significant cultural change.”

They believe that changing the narratives depicted in entertainment media can “reshape our country’s immigration narrative and generate significant cultural change.” 

“We wanted to determine if seeing the specific immigration storylines influenced [viewers’] attitudes, behavior, or knowledge in the real world,” said Sarah Lowe, the associate director of research and impact at Define American to Variety. “And we were reassured and inspired to see the impact it had.” 

Define American’s founder, Jose Antonio Vargas, is relatively optimistic about the study’s outcomes, saying that the report has “some promising findings” and the numbers “provide [him] with hope”. He added that there are still “many areas in which immigrant representation can improve”.

via Getty Images

Namely, Vargas was disappointed in television’s failure to take an intersectional approach to immigration in regards to undocumented Black immigrants. 

“Black undocumented immigrants are detained and deported at higher rates than other ethnic groups,” Vargas told Variety. “But their stories are largely left off-screen and left out of the larger narrative around immigration.” 

“Change the Narrative, Change the World” also showed that Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants are also under-represented on television compared with reality. Also worth noting, male immigrants were over-represented on television compared to reality, while immigrants with disabilities were also under-represented.

The study also showed that when viewers are exposed to TV storylines that humanize immigrants, they’re more likely to take action on immigration issues themselves. 

The effect that fictional entertainment narratives have on viewers further proves that representation does, indeed, matter. What we watch as entertainment changes the way we think about other people’s lived experiences. And that, in turn, can change the world.

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ICE Just Deported A Key Witness in A Sexual Assault Investigation Against Them

Things That Matter

ICE Just Deported A Key Witness in A Sexual Assault Investigation Against Them

According to the Texas Tribune, the key witness in the ongoing sexual assault investigation at an ICE detention center has been deported. She was previously being held at a Customs Enforcement detention center in El Paso, Texas.

While the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General initially forbid ICE from deporting her, the office apparently reversed their decision on Monday. According to reports, the office determined that “further interviews could be done over the phone”.

via Getty Images

According to previous reports, the unidentified 35-year-old woman alleged that guards had “forcibly kissed” her and touched her on the private parts.

Documents, which were extensively reported on by ProPublica, described the harassment as a “pattern and practice” at this particular detention center.

The woman also alleges that the guards would attempt to extort sexual favors from her and other detainees when they were returning from the medical unit back to her barrack. One guard allegedly told her that he would help get her released “if she behaved”.

The unnamed woman reported the harrasment to her lawyers who then filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. The DHS then opened an investigation into the ICE Detention Center in El Paso.

The FBI has, since then, interviewed the woman extensively. According to documents, the woman gave investigators a tour of the facility where she showed them where the alleged harassment took place–in what were identified as security camera “blind spots”.

According to her, the guard told her that if she reported him, “No one would believe her”.

via Getty Images

Since the woman made these accusations, at least two other women at the same detention center came forward with similar claims. One of these women has already been deported.

According to previous reports, the unnamed woman accusing ICE officials of sexual assault was being held at the El Paso detention center for a drug-related crime and illegally entering the country. She claims she initially fled Mexico after a cartel member sexually assaulted and threatened her.

While ICE says that they have “zero tolerance for any form of sexual abuse or assault against individuals in the agency’s custody”, the reality is much bleaker.

According to the advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants, ICE has had 14,700 complaints filed against them between 2010 and 2016 alleging sexual and/or physical abuse.

In the most recent statistics available, ICE reported 374 formal accusations of sexual assault in 2018. Forty-eight of those were substantiated by the agency and 29 were still pending an investigation. According to Freedom for Immigrants, only a fraction of these complaints are investigated by the Office of Inspector General.

The woman’s lawyer, Linda Corchado, has not been shy about expressing her displeasure over her client’s deportation.

“[The government] allowed their most powerful witness to be deported,” Corchado said. “How can we possibly take this investigation seriously now or ever pretend that it ever was from the outset?”

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