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Immigration Law

Black Farmworkers in Miss. Bring H-2A Visa Abuse Lawsuit

The amended complaint is here.

"Black farmworkers from Mississippi sued Pitts Farms Partnership — one of the largest farms in Mississippi — for discriminating against them in favor of white foreign workers, costing them thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and lost job opportunities. The lawsuit, filed by the Mississippi Center for Justice and Southern Migrant Legal Services, also alleges that Pitts Farms illegally used the federal government’s H-2A visa program, which allows U.S. farmers to hire foreign workers only when no U.S. workers are available to do the job.  The six plaintiffs are Black Mississippi Delta natives who worked as seasonal farmworkers for Pitts Farms or truck drivers for a Pitts subsidiary. Two of the plaintiffs worked a combined 43 years for the operation. According to the suit, starting in 2014, Pitts Farms began hiring exclusively white workers from South Africa through the H-2A visa program. After entering the program, Pitts Farms kept the plaintiffs on, and even had them train the H-2A workers, while paying its Black workers $2-$4 less per hour. Overt racism was also common on the job. One supervisor in particular frequently used racial slurs, including the n-word.  When one of the plaintiffs asked to be compensated equally to the white foreign workers, Pitts Farms turned him down. Eventually, Pitts Farms stopped employing several of the plaintiffs altogether and hired more white foreign workers." - Mississippi Center for Justice, Sept. 8, 2021

"For more than a quarter-century, Richard Strong worked the fertile farmland of the Mississippi Delta, just as his father and his grandfather did, a family lineage of punishing labor and meager earnings that stretched back to his enslaved ancestors brought from Africa.  He tilled the soil, fertilized crops and irrigated the fields, nurturing an annual bounty of cotton, soybeans and corn for a prominent farming family. “I’ve been around farming all my life,” Mr. Strong said. “It’s all we knew.”  Black families with deep connections to the Delta have historically been the ones to perform fieldwork. That began to change about a decade ago, when the first of dozens of young, white workers flew in from South Africa on special guest worker visas. Mr. Strong and his co-workers trained the men, who by last year were being lured across the globe with wages of more than $11 an hour, compared with the $7.25 an hour that Mr. Strong and other Black local workers were paid.  Growers brought in more South Africans with each passing year, and they are now employed at more than 100 farms across the Delta. Mr. Strong, 50, and several other longtime workers said they were told their services were no longer needed." - Miriam Jordan, New York Times, Nov. 12, 2021