Starting in 2003, the Arkansas-based company Candy Brand brought in hundreds of Mexican H-2A workers each year to harvest and pack tomatoes.23 Many of the workers were from Michoacán, Mexico.
In Michoacán, a powerful, local family controlled the recruitment of Candy Brand workers. According to workers’ testimonies, the recruiters routinely charged them between $275 and $375 in fees just to have their names placed on a list of eligible workers. Workers from the Mexican state of Tabasco were not only required to pay a similar fee by their local recruiter, but were further extorted by one of the Michoacán recruiters. This recruiter met the workers in Monterrey after their visas were issued and demanded that they pay him an additional $1,000 just to have their visas and passports returned to them.
“He held my passport up in the air and threatened to cut it if I didn’t pay him. I didn’t have all of the money he asked for but he gave me back my passport on the condition I would pay the rest of the money to his son in the United States after I started working for Candy Brand. The recruiters threatened to kill my wife and children in Mexico if I didn’t pay,” said Juan Pablo Asencio Vasquez, a worker from Tabasco. Reluctant to forgo the money they had already spent for the opportunity to work in the United States, the workers felt they had no other option but to pay these fraudulent and illegal fees.