October 7, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A delegation of internationally recruited women workers from México, the Philippines, and Ecuador arrived today in Washington, D.C. to educate policymakers about the unique issues that women face during the recruitment process in their communities of origin and as temporary workers in the United States. The delegation is here to advocate for a just and fair immigration system, one that takes into account their distinct experiences as guestworker women.

Women on temporary work visas are employed in a variety of U.S. industries, including chocolate, seafood, agriculture, hospitality, healthcare, and education. Regardless of their visa category, employment sector, race or national origin, women face disturbingly common patterns of abuse in their U.S. workplaces and before they even arrive in the country. The abuse includes fraud, discrimination, severe economic coercion, retaliation, blacklisting, and, in some cases, debt bondage or other forms of human trafficking.

“When I arrived to the U.S. and started working, I felt tricked,” said Fernanda Defaz, who was led to believe she would receive management training in the U.S. under the J-1 visa program. Instead she ended up cleaning tables for $5 an hour. She turned to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPCL) for help, which represents her today.

“I had spent so much money to participate that I couldn’t just turn around and leave. I was fortunate to recoup some of the money I lost, but worry that my sponsor and other J-1 sponsors continue to recruit young people with false promises.” She will speak about her experience during the delegation and will exhort policymakers to adopt reforms to these visas programs.

“Internationally recruited women workers are often locked out of jobs due to gender discrimination in the recruitment process,” said Mónica Ramírez, Deputy Director at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM). “Those who are hired are extremely vulnerable to exploitation with very few resources available to seek justice.”

“[Guestworker] women are commonly excluded and made invisible in debates about immigration,” said Adareli Ponce. She is a member of the Migrant Defense Committee (Comité de Defensa del Migrante), a group of Mexico-based migrant leaders that collaborates closely with CDM. “Even if women represent a minority, we also migrate to work.”

Ponce has traveled from Mexico to work in the United States on temporary visas nine times over the past ten years in the crab and chocolate industries. She has been defrauded three times by recruiters in Mexico who approached her with false promises of jobs in the U.S. “Nothing will change if we don’t try,” Ponce said about her decision to travel from Mexico to participate in the guestworker women’s delegation.

The delegation, organized by CDM, Oxfam, SPLC, with support from American University Washington College of Law and Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Farmworker Women Alliance), represents the first time a group of internationally recruited women will meet with policy makers through a coordinated effort of this kind. The group of women will highlight their experiences during the recruitment process in their communities of origin and as temporary workers in the United States and will call for critical reforms to these programs. Delegation participants will also participate in the March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect on October 8 in Washington, D.C.

Press Contact:

Moravia de la O

(410) 783-0236, moravia@cdmigrante.org