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Guest workers deserve respect - and better treatment

Pickers work at Lindy’s Seafood on Hoopers Island.
Pickers work at Lindy’s Seafood on Hoopers Island. (Michael S. Williamson)

The recent article concerning migrant women who pick crabs on the Eastern Shore does well to feature the voices of individuals who are rarely heard in the coverage of the U.S. guest worker programs (“‘I’m not here to take anyone’s job’: Mexican crab pickers quietly work in Maryland as immigration debate rages,” Sept. 25). As the article points out, women who pick crab on H-2B visas endure isolation, overcrowded housing and family separation. But the story only gives a glimpse into a few of the many issues faced by migrant worker women.

Women face gender-based discrimination during recruitment when they are directed into lower-paying jobs. Their immigration status is attached to their employer, making it virtually impossible for them to raise complaints without fearing retaliation. H-2B workers have little to no access to legal services. Changing employers, and leaving abusive workplaces is practically impossible. And if they do leave, they face the possibility of never being recruited under the programs again.

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Labor violations don’t happen in a vacuum — guest worker programs facilitate abuse. We need an alternative immigration model that respects women, families and communities.

Rachel Micah-Jones, Baltimore

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The writer is founder and executive director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante Inc.

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