Even before the pandemic, immigrant recruitment was fraught with risk and bad-actors. Unethical recruiters routinely targeted vulnerable populations and often put them at risk of deportation and even death. Just recently in San Antonio, Texas, fifty migrants were found dead from heat in the back of a tractor trailer in San Antonio. It’s among the deadliest of the tragedies that have claimed thousands of lives in recent decades as people attempt to cross the U.S. border from Mexico. Ten migrants died in 2017 after being trapped inside a truck parked at a Walmart in San Antonio. In 2003, the bodies of 19 migrants were found in a sweltering truck southeast of San Antonio.
In December, more than 50 died when a semitrailer filled with migrants rolled over on a highway in southern Mexico. In October, Mexican authorities reported finding 652 migrants packed into six trailers near the U.S. border. They were stopped at a military checkpoint.
Noting that Homeland Security Investigations had launched its investigation into the most recent deaths in San Antonio with the support of the San Antonio Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas also took aim at the migrant recruiters and smugglers as “callous individuals who have no regard for the vulnerable people they exploit and endanger in order to make a profit.”
This past April in San Diego, Federal prosecutors charged a 23-year-old recruiter in connection with the deaths of three Chinese migrants whose bodies were discovered in 2019 in the trunk of an abandoned car in San Diego. Saad "Ryan" Ali Awan's role in the scheme was to recruit drivers to smuggle migrants across the border from Tijuana.
“Human smugglers do not act alone, and we will continue to prosecute offenders who participate at all levels of the criminal organizations responsible for these dangerous crimes,” Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, without significant - and effective - reform, "Brute restrictions on labor migration will not stop desperate populations from migrating. They will just drive riskier migration. Responsible tracking can easily turn into repressive surveillance. Clumsy regulation of recruitment agencies can have unintended side effects."
At the ninth Summit of the Americas, held in Los Angeles in early June, the the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held a roundtable on H-2 migration and fair recruitment practices.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas were hosts to a multi-sectoral discussion on U.S. government efforts to expand labor migration pathways from northern Central America and announced “Guidance on Fair Recruitment Practices for Temporary Migrant Workers.” As the Biden-Harris Administration seeks to expand lawful pathways through H-2 temporary worker programs, this guidance is meant to provide principles and guidelines on preventing abuse of prospective workers.
“This collaborative effort by the Departments of Labor and State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development will help protect prospective workers in the H-2A and H-2B programs from abuse,” said Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. “The guidance announced today is intended to increase transparency and regulation of H-2A and H-2B worker recruitment programs and safeguard workers’ fundamental rights.”
Administrator Power and Secretary Mayorkas were joined by government officials from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Labor, and State, along with the Foreign Ministers of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and leaders from the public, private, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors in promoting fair recruitment of temporary workers from northern Central America.
CIERTO CEO Joe Martinez participated in the roundtable on H-2 migration and fair recruitment. CIERTO is an international Farm Labor Contractor dedicated to assisting employers with the federal H-2A visa program, and was asked to participate in the event because of its history of leadership in changing the fair recruitment paradigm, including establishing a presence in Central America. The organization has received a grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to expand its operations and establish the network of verification partners necessary to begin responsibly recruiting up to 20,000 H-2A workers from Guatemala.
He had this to say: "it was exciting to see the Federal Government, private sector actors, NGOs and non-profits all come together to discuss what needs to be done to protect migrant workers.The new document is a big step in the right direction. It's been created in accordance with the International Labor Organization's (ILO) guiding principles, which CIERTO has built our recruitment model around. I look forward to them becoming requirements and regulations, as opposed to just guidelines."
Along with the guidance on best practices for ethical recruitment, the Biden administration has announced several initiatives aimed at immigrant recruitment and hiring. One pilot program developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies will allocate $65 million in U.S. government funding to help farmers hire workers and improve work conditions.
Another US program will provide 11,500 H-2B nonagricultural seasonal worker visas for nationals of Northern Central America and Haiti. To address labor shortages in key sectors of the U.S. economy and reduce irregular migration, DHS and Department of Labor (DOL) made an additional 11,500 H-2B visas available in late May. These visas are dedicated for nationals of the Northern Central America countries and Haiti for this fiscal year. This is combined with new employer oversight provisions.
"We see expanding these lawful pathways as a small but meaningful part of the comprehensive strategy to address irregular migration," an administration official told Reuters.
Canada expects to welcome more than 50,000 agricultural workers from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean in 2022. Canada has emerged as a strong supporter of labour mobility and continues to actively promote regular pathways for migration, including temporary foreign worker programs that respond to employer labour needs, to address their labour market gaps, and as alternatives to irregular migration.
Mexico will launch a new temporary labor program providing work opportunities in Mexico for 15,000 to 20,000 workers from Guatemala per year. The Government of Mexico aims to expand eligibility for that program to include Honduras and El Salvador in the medium-term. In addition, the country will integrate 20,000 recognized refugees into the Mexican labor market over the next three years.
Migration experts - jaded by promises made and not kept by multiple US administrations - were cautious.
The declaration is non-binding and will likely only be effective if it is the first of further initiatives, Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a nonpartisan research institution, said in a statement to TIME. “It is, of course, hard to know how the Los Angeles agreement will be implemented in practice,” he adds. “Like many other international declarations, it creates a set of shared proposals that governments agree they would like to pursue but leaves the actual details to later negotiations…The Los Angeles Declaration will be successful if it is the first, not the final, word on migration cooperation in the Americas."
Even billions in private investment won’t have much of an effect, Ariel Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst at MPI, if the governments of the countries with high rates of emigration lack the political will or ability to work with other nations to address the root causes of migration. “Investment is great,” he says. “But it’s not enough alone.”