31 Aug Fourteen Black Farmworkers Sue Mississippi Farm for Lost Wages and Job Opportunities Due to Abuse of the Immigration System
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AUGUST 31, 2023
Fourteen Black Farmworkers Sue Mississippi Farm for Lost Wages and Job Opportunities Due to Abuse of the Immigration System
MISSISSIPPI DELTA— Fourteen Black farmworkers filed a lawsuit in federal court last week against a farm in the Mississippi Delta, alleging that the farm paid them lower wages and offered them fewer hours than foreign workers brought in under the federal government’s H-2A visa program.
The lawsuit, brought against Nobile Farms, was filed by Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS) and the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ). This is the latest move in the campaign waged by SMLS, MCJ, and the U.S. Department of Labor to force farms in the Delta to compensate workers who were underpaid and underemployed due to widespread manipulation of the H-2A program. That program allows U.S. farmers to hire foreign workers only when no U.S. workers are available to do the job.
“The H-2A program is meant to provide workers to American farmers who are faced with a true labor shortage,” said one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Hannah Wolf, of Southern Migrant Legal Services. “But it requires that employers first seek out local workers and pay them the same rate that the foreign workers make. Unfortunately, that often does not happen and did not happen in this case.”
As part of its campaign, MCJ and SMLS last year settled cases it had filed against two other farms, resulting in significant payments by the farms to local workers who were underpaid. Also, the U.S. Department of Labor announced on June 28, 2023, that it had recovered $505,540 to date from 44 farms to compensate other local workers as part of its own investigation into these practices. That investigation was the result of a request to the Department by MCJ to take steps to address this widespread problem in the Delta.
“As with our prior cases, we stand ready to negotiate with employers for reasonable settlements that will promptly and fairly compensate their workers and avoid lengthy and expensive litigation,” said Rob McDuff of Mississippi Center for Justice, who also is representing plaintiffs in these lawsuits. “In the meantime, we are moving forward and looking at other farms that have failed to treat local workers fairly.”
“In partnership with the Department of Labor, MCJ and SMLS are very committed to this campaign,” said Vangela M. Wade, President & CEO of Mississippi Center for Justice. “We are pleased with the progress that has been made and are looking forward to further progress in rectifying this widespread mistreatment of local workers.”
“Many of these plaintiffs are life-long farmworkers; they know the land, they know the weather, they know the crops. They should not be passed over or treated as less than equal to their foreign counterparts,” said another of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Amal Bouhabib, of Southern Migrant Legal Services.
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Contact: Julia Fourt, Public Relations Manager, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, 210-212-3791, firstname.lastname@example.org; Mandesha Thornton, Communications Specialist, Mississippi Center for Justice, 601-487-7504, email@example.com
Southern Migrant Legal Services, a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) based in Nashville, Tenn., provides free employment-related legal services to migrant farmworkers who work in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. TRLA provides free legal services to people who cannot afford an attorney in 68 counties in South and southwestern Texas. TRLA attorneys specialize in disaster assistance, family, employment, landlord-tenant, housing, education, immigration, farmworker, civil rights, and other areas.
The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid provides free legal services to people who cannot afford an attorney in 68 southwestern counties, including the entire Texas-Mexico border. TRLA attorneys specialize in more than 45 areas of law, including disaster assistance, family, employment, landlord-tenant, housing, education, immigration, farmworker, and civil rights. TRLA also operates public defender programs that serve at least 10 Texas counties. Our hotline is open from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (CST) Monday – Friday: (956)-996-TRLA (8752) or toll-free at (833) 329-TRLA (8752)