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.

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“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.

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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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