Leadership Conference Announces Support for Justice for Mexican Guestworkers

Media 06.12,02

Contact: Julie Fernandes

June 12, 2002


For Immediate Release

Washington, D.C. – The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil and human rights coalition of more than 180 national organizations representing persons of color, women, persons with disabilities, labor groups, gays and lesbians, older Americans, and religious groups, today announced its strong support for legislation introduced by Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Sam Farr (D-CA) that would waive procedural defenses in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Mexican guestworkers who are owed back wages from the U.S. government.

“For most of the last century, temporary worker programs, particularly in agriculture, have fostered extraordinary abuse and mistreatment of the workers in those programs,” said LCCR Executive Director Wade Henderson. “As part of our continued efforts to combat past and current exploitation, we urge Congress to support the Bracero Justice Act of 2002.”

During WWII, because of a nation-wide labor shortage, the United States and Mexico entered into an agreement whereby workers from Mexico would be permitted to work legally in the United States. As part of this agreement, ten percent of the Mexican workers’ wages were deducted from every paycheck, to be repaid to them upon their return to Mexico. Though the wages were regularly collected by the U.S. government and transferred to Mexico, many of the Mexican workers have never received any of the money owed to them. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco last year, charges the U.S. and Mexican governments, along with several banks, with breach of contract, breach of trust/fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment.

The Bracero Justice Act of 2002 would require the United States to defend this litigation on the merits, rather than argue that the lawsuit should be dismissed based on the statutes of limitations or sovereign immunity. Similar legislation was used in recent years to assist in the fair adjudication of wrongs committed against African-American farmers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Throughout our history, farmworkers have been among the most vulnerable and exploited group of workers,” said LCCR’s Henderson. “Justice demands that the Braceros be allowed their day in court.”

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