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The Exploitation of Latino Immigrants
ONC Editorial

Sep 08, 2023

Explaining the relationship between our temporary work visa program and exploitation.

Concerns over the exploitation of Latino immigrants in the U.S. have risen sharply over the past few years. According to Polaris, a non-profit social justice organization for the victims of human trafficking in the U.S., 76 percent of trafficking victims in the agriculture sector were immigrants, and of that 76 percent, half are from Mexico. 

In 2020, Centro De Los Derechos Del Migrante, Inc. (CDM), a non-profit organization established to defend the rights of migrant workers in the U.S., released a report stating that out of 100 Latino migrant workers interviewed, 100 percent of them reported labor violations. These violations included discrimination, sexual harassment, wage theft and health and safety violations by employers. 

The U.S. H-2A Visa Program was created by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986 and is a temporary agricultural program which enables employers to hire non-domestic laborers for temporary or seasonal work. In 2019, the program hit a record high of 256,677 certified migrant workers.

Through the H-2A Visa Program, with its lack of federal oversight, many migrants have their vulnerabilities exploited. A migrant’s fear of deportation is a powerful weapon in the hands of an unethical employer. It can be used to unlawfully manipulate migrants into arduous, unpaid labor.  

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), stating they have established a “victims centered approach.”

In 2021, ICE identified three primary trends in Latino labor human trafficking. First, the victims are hoping for a better life and are preyed upon due to their vulnerability. Secondly, traffickers promise high-paying jobs then use physical and psychological violence to control them once they are within the H-2A program. Lastly, the victims are not made aware of their legal rights.

Federal agencies hope to work with non-governmental organizations (NGO) to implement immediate changes to policies which enable exploitative labor trafficking conditions in the US. 

Rachel Cole is a social issues policy intern with ONC and a doctoral candidate at Walden University. She specializes in public policy analysis with a focus on U.S. immigration issues. Since earning her master’s degree in sociology, Rachel has worked with the Social Security Administration on policy issues regarding benefits for non-English speaking Americans. 


“H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program.” United States Department of Labor, (2021). Accessed on February 6, 2022, from,a%20temporary%20or%20seasonal%20nature.  

“Human Trafficking.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (2021). Accessed on February 6, 2022, from  

“The Latino Face of Human Trafficking and Exploitation in the United States.” Polaris, (26 May 2020). Accessed on February 6, 2022, from  

“Ripe for Reform: Abuse of Agricultural Workers in the H-2A Visa Program.” Centro De Los Derechos Del Migrante, Inc., (14 Apr. 2020). Accessed on February 6, 2022, from  

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