Jorge Palafox, member of the Migrant Defense Committee, shared his experience as a migrant worker in California before the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) to demand that SB 477 protects all migrant workers from trafficking, fraud, exploitation and other abuses. In an interview with contratados.org, Jorge tells us about why this law matters.
Could you talk about SB 477?
The law seeks to regulate the recruitment of migrant workers in California. Basically, the law requires to have a registry of foreign labor recruiters so we, as workers, can verify that offers are real and not scams. It also seeks to eliminate all recruitment fees for workers, including the costs related to visas and transportation, among other things.
Why do you think employers should pay for all recruitment costs?
The reality is that most of the us workers owe money even before we start to work because we have to take out loans to cover recruitment fees and other costs, in addition to the interests on those loans.
Why is it important that workers are not in debt when they go to work?
Being in debt before starting a job generates a lot of pressure. It means that we have to remain working for an employer without complaining even if we work under abusive conditions because we’re afraid. Having debts limits you to not being able to demand that your labor rights be respected. You wonder, how would you even return to Mexico? Since we owe money, we cover our return trip and even if we could, we’d return to Mexico, where we owe the money.
In the way the law has been interpreted, SB 477 would only protect H-2B workers in California. What's your opinion about the proposed implementation?
I think coverage should not be limited to H-2B workers. There are many migrant workers, and we should all have the same rights. Just as there are many frauds and abuses for those who come with H-2B visa, similar abuses happen to those who come with other visas. We all deserve to be protected from abuse.
What would you like to say to other workers who have gone to work in the United States like you and who have also been abused?
We have rights; don’t be afraid to speak up! It is important to know what our rights are because ignorance makes unaware of what you deserve.