“This case is really emblematic of a pattern that we’ve seen in this region and in this industry, where employers in these supply chains are misusing these visas,” said Ben Botts, legal director of the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, a migrant workers organization that operates in Mexico and the U.S., and one of the entities representing the Mexican laborers in this case.
Botts explained that the suit also alleges employment discrimination, as the Mexican workers contend they were paid less than U.S. workers performing the same or similar work.
“One very important element of the success of [the auto] industry appears to be exploiting migrant workers, and really depressing labor standards for all,” Botts said.
The three defendants in the suit are a Hyundai MOBIS subsidiary registered in Cobb County, and a labor recruiter (SPJ Connect) and staffing agency (Allswell), both of which are based in Coweta County.
When the suit was originally filed over the summer, a MOBIS spokesman told the AJC via email that the company is “an equal employment opportunity employer. MOBIS denies the allegations contained in the complaint and will vigorously defend the claim.”
Hyundai MOBIS did not respond to requests for comment since the broader array of allegations was added to the complaint earlier this month.
A member of SPJ Connect’s and Allswell’s legal said in a statement that “There are two sides to every story, and we intend to vigorously defend the claims made against our clients.”
To legally bring Mexican workers into the U.S., the defendants relied on the Trade NAFTA — or TN — visa, meant to fill high-skilled jobs in the U.S. with Mexican and Canadian professionals. According to a list published by the U.S. Department of State, jobs as engineers and technicians are among the professions covered by the TN visa program. Assembly line work is not.
U.S authorities vet TN visa applications and job offers before migrants travel – and when they first arrive in the country – but experts say there is no oversight of the program once TN workers actually report to work.
The amended complaint accuses the Georgia companies of violating Georgia state law and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO, “for the purpose of securing cheap manual labor to work at the Hyundai facility” in West Point, near the Alabama border.
More than 100 Mexican migrants were potentially misled into the low-paying assembly line jobs, the lawsuit claims.
Of the six named plaintiffs in the amended lawsuit, just one currently resides in Georgia. Another, the only one who continues to work at the Hyundai plant, lives in Alabama. The rest have moved on to other U.S. states or have returned to Mexico.
Three of the named plaintiffs were among those who shared their stories earlier this year with the AJC, for an investigation published over the summer outlining migrants’ journeys from their homes in Mexico to Georgia factory floors.
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