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January 2010, Volume 16, Number 1

Midwest: Child Labor, Migrants

Michigan. The US Department of Labor fined eight growers $36,000 for violating farm worker housing and child labor laws in October 2009, prompting some retailers to stop doing business with these growers. Adkin Blue Ribbon, a blueberry grower, was found to have children picking blueberries and poor housing. Adkin general manager Tony Marr said the firm has policies against hiring children: "We can hire as many adult workers as we need. We don't need to hire children."

Mexican Immigrants. Paral's report estimated 1.2 million Mexican-born residents in eight Midwestern states in 2005-06; almost two-thirds were in Illinois, and almost two-thirds were unauthorized. Mexican immigrants are more dispersed than Arabs in Dearborn, Michigan; Somalis in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; and Poles in Chicago.

About 700,000 of these states? 29 million workers in 2006 were Mexican immigrants; most worked in agriculture, construction and manufacturing, usually in low-skill and low-wage jobs.

Paral provides snapshots of integration in Marshalltown, Iowa and Waukegan, Illinois. Marshalltown's leaders in the 1990s began visiting Villachuato, Michoacan, home to many of the city's Mexican immigrants, to better understand the origins of workers who were drawn to meatpacking jobs. Marshalltown schools adapted to large numbers of non-English speakers.

Waukegan attracts Mexican immigrants to fill service jobs. Its city leaders took a tough stance against driving without a license and driving under the influence, and proposed an agreement with ICE to have local police check immigration status.

A November 2009 report estimated that 40 percent of the hired workers on Wisconsin dairy farms were immigrants, up from five percent a decade earlier. Farmers who were interviewed reported paying milkers the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, and noted that local workers would expect a wage twice as high.

FLOC. Farm Labor Organizing Committee organizer Santiago Cruz was killed in the FLOC office in Monterrey, Mexico in April 2007. FLOC represents about 6,000 Mexican workers who come to the US with H-2A visas and are deployed to 650 farms by the North Carolina Growers Association, and opened the office in Mexico in 2005 to reduce the recruiting fees they paid in Mexico.

FLOC complains that the Mexican government is doing too little to find and punish the killers.

Trafficking. The Kansas City Star ran a series of articles on human trafficking in December 2009. (

One article dealt with Kansas City-based Giant Labor Solutions (GLS), indicted in May 2009 for trafficking after bringing over 1,000 workers with H-2B visas into the US and sending them to employers in hospitality and landscaping. The H-2B program issues up to 66,000 visas a year to fill seasonal nonfarm jobs.

GLS and related companies brought foreigners into the US with H-2B visas for cleaning jobs. The workers' recruitment debts were high and US earnings low, so many were soon in debt bondage because of rent and other living costs and prevented from leaving. Some were recruited for one job, say at a hotel, but sent to work in manufacturing, violating the terms of their visas.

Since 2005, employers seeking H-2A visas must pay a $150 anti-fraud fee to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that is shared with the Department of Labor (DOL). However, DOL did not spend most of its $200 million share of the anti-fraud funds because, under the law, DOL can respond only to complaints, and it received few complaints.

Mark Morris, "Work visa program is rife with problems," Kansas City Star, December 14, 2009. Bob Luder, "Department of Labor to growers: We're watching," The Packer, November 6, 2009. Paral, Rob. 2009. Mexican Immigration in the Midwest: Meanings and Implications. Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

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