How the H-2A visa program failed two farmworkers from Mexico

In 2021, Vicente Gomez Hernandez and Humberto Feliciano Gomez, cousins from a poor village in Oaxaca, joined the hundreds of thousands of men and women from Mexico who come to the U.S. each year on an H-2A seasonal visa to work on farms around the country. The visa is meant to be a safe and efficient alternative to illegal border crossings, and a win for farmers, who need the labor, and workers, who get much higher wages than they can earn at home.

But as the tragic story of Gomez and Feliciano makes clear, “The promise of steady work and decent pay quickly devolves into a nightmare of labor trafficking, wage theft, and unsafe living conditions that can lead to injury or even death.”

As Esther Honig and Johnathan Hettinger write in FERN’s latest story, published in partnership with Investigate Midwest: “Federal law spells out numerous protections for H-2A workers. They are to be reimbursed by their employer for the cost of their travel, for instance, and be provided free and safe housing as well as a competitive hourly wage.

“But too often these laws are poorly enforced at both the federal and state levels.

“That lack of oversight creates opportunities for workers to be exploited, cheated, and abused.”