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Migrant workers face high rates of sexual harassment

The Human Rights Watch recently published a paper identifying issues with sexual harassment and violence in the agriculture industry. These issues have long existed but often go unacknowledged.

It is estimated that about 75 percent of all farmworkers in the U.S. are foreign-born, with the vast majority from Mexico. Many of these workers are unauthorized immigrants, while many more are here on the H-2A temporary visa. The H-2A visa is tied to the employer, not the worker; thus migrant workers are almost entirely dependent on their employers. This makes farmworkers extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. 

Impediments to reporting harassment

It is not only retaliation or reprisals that keep migrant workers from reporting abuse. Many do not speak English well. In addition, Latino immigrants have a different cultural background, which often places blame on the victim, rather than the abuser. When you consider that farmworkers also face low wages and have very limited opportunities for jobs, helping the women and men who are being abused or harassed becomes much more difficult. If they lose their job, they are typically not eligible for unemployment.

Help is available  

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a Strategic Enforcement Plan in 2012, making immigrant, migrant and vulnerable workers a priority in identifying workplace issues. When the SEP was updated for 2017 through 2021, this priority was revised. It now states, “EEOC will focus on job segregation, harassment, trafficking, pay, retaliation and other policies and practices against vulnerable workers, including immigrant and migrant workers…” 

Migrant workers have protections in the workplace, regardless of their immigration status, but it can be frightening to make a complaint of sexual harassment. An attorney who understands sexual harassment law can help find the best way to address the problem by helping you understand your rights and standing behind you when you make a complaint. 

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