• The workers came forward to the FBI and the Department of Justice without any promises of a T-Visa or guarantee of a permanent resident card. T-Visas are issued by USCIS and are independently reviewed by that agency on their own merits. Several workers who already had legal status have also given interviews and evidence to the government. In addition, workers who have already returned to Thailand have given evidence to the investigators–what would be the motivation for them to do this, if they did not receive immigration benefits?
• Workers were concerned about the whereabouts of their passports as they knew that without these documents, Global Horizons (GH) could control where they stayed, who they talked to outside of the farms and how they moved around. The weapon of control here was not the passport, it was money. Workers were not paid on time, not paid for all of the work they performed, not paid for weeks and months of furloughed time. While this was happening, the debts back in Thailand increased daily and the workers became more and more desperate. Most did not have any contacts for the government or assistance outside of the farms, some being in isolated locations. The workers I have spoken with felt that they had to keep trying to get work from GH or their lives would be ruined. I don’t know how many of our clients said, “We complained about our wages and missing paychecks every chance we got. Pranee (Pranee Tubchumpol, Director of International Relations) told us to be patient and to keep waiting. She also told us to stop complaining or the company would send us home.” Being sent home without the opportunity to work as they were promised meant the destruction of the men’s families and farms. The men were isolated and didn’t know where else to go for help. “Exploited workers are not productive”, Mr. Orian says. This is just ridiculous – Productivity is not a measure of exploitation. In my opinion, desperate men will work themselves to death if it means saving their families from financial and emotional ruin.
• All of the workers were promised three years of consistent work in the U.S. by recruitment companies hired by GH. The men calculated this, balanced this promise against the recruitment fees that were being asked of them, and knew that if they had three years of work, they could pay off their loan in two years and take one year of salary home with them. They were not told that the work or their visas would last only for a small fraction of that time. They were not told it would be two weeks of work followed by two months off, then 3 weeks of work in another state, then more time off or even time back in Thailand. This was misleading and dishonest. The moment that GH learned of the excessive recruitment fees, they should have fired that recruitment company and reported them to the Thai Department of Labor. But, instead, in the U.S., GH supervisors (including Pranee) demanded MORE fees from the workers. In one instance, it was a $3,000 “renewal” fee for their next H-2A visas. Again, they were told if they went to authorities or complained, GH would simply just send them back to Thailand. By this time, GH representatives knew that the men would stay and work under these stressful conditions, even when asked to pay more money.
• Farms were lied to about the workers’ visas and their status. They did not see the passports. They relied on GH to make sure the visas were valid. Mr. Orian says, “since our farmer clients were paying a premium – a total of between $14-$16 per hour…” – that is a true statement. However, I ask Mr. Orian, did GH turn around and pay the workers the wage stipulated in their contracts (around $9.75/hr.)? Did they pay the workers on time, consistently? Didn’t GH have to pay back wages in several states after investigations, including one from the New York State Attorney General? Didn’t the Department of Labor just order GH and Mr. Orian himself to pay $153,000 in back wages? If they were fair to the workers and made sure they got paid, how is it that they have to pay back wages? All of this money went somewhere. I ask Mr. Orian if he failed to pay his office staff or supervisors for weeks on end, or laid them off for months at a time and then refused to make it right, how would he be able to run his business? He was only able to do this because these worker had no voice and no one speaking up for them until now.
Melissa Vincenty is a Honolulu-based immigration attorney. She and her legal partner Clare Hanusz represent dozens of Thai workers in civil litigation pending against Aloun Farms and have worked with Thai workers in Hawaii who were brought to Hawaii by Global Horizons