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Three Mexican guestworkers find doing things legally incurs a high cost

LatinaLista — When Marlen Guadalupe Landeros Covarrubias, Sandivel Villanueva Flores and Rita Dorali Curiel Sandoval decided to leave their native Mexico and come to the United States to work, they wanted to do it the right way.


They decided to come as temporary migrant guestworkers to work for the North Carolina-based seafood company Captain Charlie’s Seafood.

What these women soon found out — doing things the right way has a high price tag, in more ways than one.

Women sit at their stations cleaning meat from cooked crabs.

Guadalupe, Sandival and Rita accepted the recruitment offer by Captain Charlie’s Seafood reps who went south of the border looking for temporary workers under the H-2B program. To qualify to come, all three women had to purchase a “Derecho de Visa” — something that used to cost $45 but now costs $100. The women purchased it at their own expense.

Next, the three women had to pay another visa fee to the U.S. Consulate — an additional $100. Yet, that doesn’t take into consideration the transportation costs to the U.S. Consulate and hotel costs in Monterrey, Mexico, from their homes elsewhere in the country, where the women had to go for their interviews and wait until their visas cleared — again, all expenses they paid out of pocket.

Once they were approved for their visas, the women had to get to North Carolina to start working. So, they bought a bus ticket that cost $270 and paid a $6 border crossing fee to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Before they knew it, they were on their way — and already in debt before they were to receive their first paycheck. To top it off, their new employer refused to reimburse them any of their expenses as they were required by law to do.

What’s worse is that Captain Charlie’s Seafood shortchanged the women of hard-earned wages and the opportunity to perform certain kinds of work simply because they were women.

The three have filed a lawsuit today against the company demanding that since they did all they were supposed to do to follow the rule of U.S. law, this American company must do the same.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and the North Carolina Justice Center filed the lawsuit, Landeros Covarrubias, et al. v. Capt. Charlie’s Seafood, Inc., on behalf of the three women and other workers in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.


The lawsuit charges that Captain Charlie’s discriminated against them on the basis of sex by restricting them to certain work, which culminated in their wrongful termination in violation of North Carolina public policy prohibiting such gender-based employment decisions.

The lawsuit also charges that the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and the North Carolina Wages and Hours Act in underpaying workers and failing to reimburse them for travel and visa expenses.

When the women arrived at the seafood plant, they were given the job of “picking crabs,” a task that includes cleaning the meat from cooked crabs and putting the meat in a bucket. Though they were told when recruited they would be working a certain amount of time, the management gave them fewer hours than the men they had recruited.

In fact, the men were given all kinds of jobs like cooking, carrying the crabs or handling the crab traps — jobs the women say they could have easily done but were not allowed to, in turn, not able to earn the money they had been promised.

Eventually, when it came time to terminate workers, the company fired about 20 women crab pickers but kept the men on who were doing the other work. Though the women had been given glowing evaluations, the men were the only ones allowed to work longer hours, more days and given more responsibility.

In essence, these actions kept the women underpaid and behind in their promised salaries. When they were let go, the women were barely better off than before they started their ordeal.

There is no doubt that Captain Charlie’s Seafood company will fight this lawsuit but if justice is truly working then these women should prevail. This company clearly violated the conditions of reimbursing workers’ expenses in the process of complying with H-2B visa regulations, reneged on the wages promised the women and discriminated against them because of their gender.

While some may say that the management was looking out for the safety and/or health of these women by denying them the work they allowed the men to do, then it was up to the company to provide comparable tasks so the women could earn the money they were promised and which served as the only reason for them to travel hundreds of miles away to a foreign country, away from their families, to work in a smelly plant doing a job that out-of-work locals could easily have done.

One has to ask, since this is a perfect example, why aren’t the locals doing this work? Too smelly? Too backbreaking? Or maybe the pay is too low?

If justice is to be served, management at Captain Charlie’s Seafood is going to feel a little crabby — an emotion that all other employers, who also take advantage of temporary guestworkers, are bound to feel once comprehensive immigration reform is passed and outlaws the notion that immigrant workers are only useful when they’re exploited.

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  • El Guapo
    March 18, 2010 at 5:17 am

    The problem is that it’s difficult to prove claims like that. The expenses that weren’t reimbursed might be easy, but the other charges are tough to prove.

  • Texan123
    March 18, 2010 at 7:51 am

    The fact that these women did things legally gives their case extra credibility. The employer should be forced to pay what he promised to these women. That is what the Federal Government and immigration officials are required to enforce, among other regulations.
    I have heard stories of illegal immigrants paying several thousand dollars to be smuggled illegally. The cost to come legally and the protection from deportation offered by doing things legally does have a price.
    That is one reason most legal immigrants do not favor legal status for illegal immigrants. It is not fair to those who play by the rules.

  • Angel
    March 19, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I fail to see how CIR will change this. If employers can’t cheat their employees and have to pay them going rates of citizens, then they might just as well hire citizens. As far as expenses of travel and lodging are concerned, employers will never pay it. Also, illegal aliens are willing to pay over a thousand dollars to coyotes to cross the border under trying conditions, so what their paying isn’t much worse. This isn’t Mexico, where they tolerate a low standard of living and cheat on their taxes, so coming here legally will never be cheap. Illegal aliens will live dozens of people to a home, avoid paying insurance of any kind.
    Even if you have CIR, you’ll always have illegal aliens who will try avoid taxes and costs inherent with the relatively high standards of living in this country. CIR will not solve Mexico’s corruption, mistreatment of its citizens and stop the movement north, so any assertion to the contrary is a lie fostered by ethnocentric advocates.

  • David
    March 22, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Sorry, Angel, but you’re just parroting the misinformed rhetoric of the racists and nativists. The fact is that the overwhelming majority undocumented immigrant workers do pay their taxes. What employer doesn’t want a write-off on their labor costs? How can they claim labor costs if no income was reported? They have the same taxes, Medicaid, and SS withheld by their employers that you and I do. The only difference is that they most often cannot file a tax return and receive a partial refund. They do not qualify to receive Social Security benefits for all the years they and their employers pay into the system, and cannot receive benefits for Medicare. Most immigrants are too proud and would never even consider a welfare handout. The only benefit they may receive for the taxes they pay is for their children’s education.

  • cookie
    March 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Racists and nativists? Why does the race card always have to be pulled on this issue? Most Americans oppose ALL illegal immmigration into our country.
    Illegals may pay some taxes but do those taxes cover all of their social costs? Do they cover the birthing of their babies on our soil and the welfare that many receive to care for them up to age 18? How about all the dollars they send out of this country to their homelands? One must weigh the taxes paid in vs the social costs in order to evaluate it properly.
    Really though to me the outcome of that is irrelevant anyway to the bottom line. Our immigration laws are what is relevant and that has nothing to do with racism or nativistism. If that were so, we wouldn’t have a legal immigration policy.

  • Texan123
    March 26, 2010 at 9:35 am

    David, Are you aware that many employers’subcontract’ out work to people who are not on payroll? If you use subcontractors, you can deduct the cost and not be liable for the taxes and social security payments.
    It is just another loophole that greedy employers and employees use to avoid paying income taxes, unemployment taxes and Social Security taxes.

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