Migrant workers lose out in NAFTA nations: studies

Two new reports charge Mexican and other Latino migrants continue facing a host of human rights violations and labor abuses in Canada and the United States. In Mexico, an assessment prepared by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) group in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies reconfirmed previous reports of bad conditions experienced by thousands of Mexican agricultural workers enrolled in a temporary labor program in Canada.

The report came as tough economic conditions in both Mexico and the US are compelling more Mexicans to view Canada as an economic survival alternative. According to PRD lawmakers, Mexican farm workers are often placed in isolated areas without access to health care, typically lack consular services and sometimes work 15-hour days.

“Problem” workers are routinely returned to Mexico and replaced with new ones, according to the center-left party. The legislative analysis was based on information provided by union activists, researchers and the Canada-based organization Justice for Migrant Farm Workers. No further details from the report were immediately available.

Under the auspices of the Mexico-Canada Temporary Agricultural Worker Program (PTAT), more than 15,000 Mexicans work 6-8 month stints in Canadian fields. Camerino Marquez Madrid, spokesman for PRD lawmakers, said the report underscored the need to both revisit the labor issue in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and encourage more private investment in the Mexican countryside “to reactivate the internal economy and halt migration.”

In many respects, the Canada-Mexico program is similar to the old bracero system of contract labor that brought millions of Mexican farmworkers to the United States between 1942-1964. Since the Bracero Program was ended, smaller numbers of foreign guestworkers, including Mexicans, have been legally contracted in the United States under the H-2A program, which has also been the object of controversy and allegations of employer abuses.

Revival of a larger bracero-type system, which is opposed by many US and Mexican labor advocates, could emerge as a prominent component of any comprehensive immigration reform proposal floated in Washington later this year or in 2010.

In the United States, a new report this week from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South,” charged that Latino immigrants in the US South are commonly mistreated by residents, employers and law enforcement officers.

According to the joint report by the civil rights groups, about four out of ten migrant workers surveyed experienced wage theft, while one-third were injured on the job. Mexican workers die on the job at twice the rate of other workers in the US, noted the NCLR in a press statement.

“A system that tolerates or condones widespread worker abuse, exploitation and harassment undermines working conditions for everyone,” commented NCLR president and CEO Janet Murguia.

Additionally, almost 70% of the respondents in the study said they suffered racism, and 77% of Latinas reported sexual harassment was a significant problem at their job.

A striking finding of the study was the high degree of distrust of law enforcement expressed by participants, with half of all respondents stating they knew someone who had been treated unfairly by police.

The NCLR-SPLC report was based on interviews with more than 500 immigrants currently living in parts of North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia. Although the survey did not specifically ask immigrants their legal status, most interviewees claimed they were either legal residents or US citizens, according to report author Mary Bauer, who also serves as director of the SPLC’s immigrant justice program.

“This is a crisis we have to address,” Bauer said of the issues raised by the report.

Once the wilderness of Latino culture, the Deep South witnessed tremendous spurts of growth in the Spanish-speaking population in recent years as migrants from Mexico and other Latin American nations filled jobs in food-processing, construction and other industries. By 2006, an estimated 1.6 million new Latino immigrants resided in six major southern states, according to the NCLR-SPLC report.

From Frontera NorteSur, April 21

See our last post on Mexico, Canada, and NAFTA and the politics of immigration.