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July 2022, Volume 28, Number 3

Florida, Southeast

Christina Gamez, a bookkeeper for Los Villatoros Harvesting (LVH), in April 2022 pleaded guilty to racketeering in 2016-17 by taking H-2A workers’ passports and requiring them to work for below-AEWR wages. LVH was founded by Bladimir Moreno in 2010 and recruited Mexican H-2A workers to work in Florida and other states before being dissolved in 2019.

Gamez knew that LVH charged H-2A workers in Mexico for US jobs, and used knowledge of these recruitment debts to encourage them to work for below-promised wages in the US.

Jose Gracia launched Gracia & Sons in 2019 while the US Department of Labor was considering whether to debar Jose M. Gracia Harvesting for violations of H-2A regulations. Gracia Harvesting violated H-2A regulations in 2016, 2017, and 2018-19, and WHD moved to debar him for three years. Gracia instead agreed to pay $69,400 in back wages, $180,000 in CMPs, and undergo enhanced compliance oversight for three years to avoid debarment. Gracia & Sons filed an application for certification to provide workers to Melon 1, the largest US watermelon grower and shipper.

The Marin J. Corporation and its owners in June 2022 admitted that they were certified to employ about 100 H-2A workers to harvest watermelons and blueberries in Florida, but sent the H-2A workers to Kennett in southeast Missouri. Marin J. in February 2022 agreed to pay $165,805 in back wages to 85 workers who had been housed in a former county jail in Missouri and $75,000 in CMPs.

Governor Ron DeSantis, who may run for president in 2024, signed a package of bills aimed at combatting human trafficking and illegal immigration in June 2022. DeSantis and other Republicans criticized the ICE flights that take unaccompanied minors from the Mexico-US borders to safe houses around the US before they are released to relatives in the US. Over 150,000 unaccompanied minors were released in FY21, and over 100,000 in the first half of FY22.

Georgia. Operation Blooming Onion in October 2021 charged 24 defendants, including Charles King of Kings Berry Farms and Stanley McGauley of Hilltop Packing, with trafficking H-2A workers between 2015 and 2021. The defendants, who accounted for a fifth of the H-2A jobs certified in Georgia, allegedly received over $200 million from their activities, which involved 70,000 H-2A workers.

Several of the defendants were ex-employees of the Georgia State Workforce Agency that helps to administer the H-2A program. Competition among H-2A recruiters led to complaints that the Georgia SWA unfairly helped the defendants.

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