Women File Complaint Over Gender Discrimination In U.S. Temporary Work Programs

By Kendal Blust
Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - 6:19pm
Updated: Thursday, March 25, 2021 - 10:49am
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For the first time, a group of Mexican migrant worker women have used the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to launch a complaint over discrimination in temporary labor programs.

The complaint filed this week accuses the United States of violating the USMCA by failing to enforce sex-based discrimination laws in its H-2 visa programs for temporary seasonal workers. The women said they were denied access to visas that would give them better paying jobs and exposed to gender-based violence.

“This is historic," said Rachel Micah-Jones, executive director of the Center for Migrant Rights, which signed the petition along with migrant workers and other organizations.

She said this is the first such complaint filed under the USMCA, which is better able to address violations of labor obligations than its predecessor NAFTA.

Her organization has been documenting sex-based discrimination in temporary work programs for 15 years, Micah-Jones said, but the pandemic has exacerbated abuse as reliance on migrant workers has increased.

“These are not isolated incidents, but a reflection of of the ongoing, systemic discrimination and gender-based violence that permeate the temporary labor migration programs. And the U.S. government is complicit," she said during a press call. “And migrant worker women are demanding action from the U.S and Mexican governments.

Adareli Ponce, 39, one of the women who filed the petition, said that she has been trying to apply to apply for a temporary work visa since she was 18 but had troubling securing a visa.

"But the opportunities were only for me, and we felt that was an injustice," she said.

She eventually received an H-2B visa, but said that she and other women were channeled into lower-paying jobs within the program. She has never been able to access and H-2A visa, for agricultural work, and says they are "practically impossible for women to access," despite the reality that women make up nearly a quarter of farmworkers in the United States.

She and others also reported sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.

The petition was filed with the Mexican government, which will now consider whether to investigate the complaint.

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