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The Farm Labor Recruitment System

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


THE FARM LABOR RECRUITMENT SYSTEM -- (House of Representatives - April 17, 2007)

Ms. KAPTUR. Mr. Speaker, on April 9, 2007, 29-year-old Toledoan, Santiago Raphael Cruz, was found bound, gagged and beaten to death in Monterrey, Mexico, in the office of his employer, the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, or FLOC.

Mr. Cruz moved from Toledo, Ohio, to Mexico 3 months ago to legally arrange for Mexican guest laborers to work for a North Carolina pickle plant with which FLOC has a contract. FLOC's efforts assured guest workers were treated humanely, that their papers were legal, and that the notorious crime-ridden labor recruitment system that characterizes farm labor on this continent would cease to exist.

FLOC, which is part of the AFL-CIO, is a farm labor union and social movement based in our district led by Baldemar Velasquez. FLOC is perhaps most recently known for achieving a fair labor contract for guest workers in the United States with H2A visas in North Carolina. Mr. Velasquez led that campaign, as well as one to organize pickle workers in Ohio in the 1980s, and has been recognized as a MacArthur Foundation fellow.

In Mexico, FLOC offered a safe, legal alternative to the exploitative promises of coyotes and those who charge exorbitant fees to smuggle Mexicans across the border. The union had been burglarized, and the workers harassed for their efforts to protect Mexicans wishing to work in our country.

I learned, as I learned more about Mr. Cruz's brutal murder, I asked myself whether this horrendous crime could have been encouraged by FLOC's noble efforts to stop the illegal trafficking and continental labor caused by NAFTA. I have called upon the governments of the United States and Mexico to fully investigate and bring the perpetrators of this horrendous crime to justice. These coyotes prey upon desperate Mexican workers whose lands were taken from them by the Mexican Government under NAFTA. NAFTA set up conditions in North America for cruel exploitation of millions of landless peasants and workers in Mexico.

Mr. Velasquez and FLOC worked endlessly to give people not only legal rights but hope for an end to the harsh treatment handed to them by the governments of the United States and of Mexico. The current and often illegal labor recruitment system is rife with corruption. It exploits landless peasants through a corrupt bounty system imposed by unsavory labor recruiters.

Many times I have said NAFTA fuels illegal immigration by creating an exodus of massive proportion of people from the Mexican countryside who need something to eat after their livelihoods are taken from them. The manner in which these people are being exploited is a continental sacrilege. The problem with NAFTA and NAFTA-style trade agreements is they fail to take people into account.

NAFTA and NAFTA-style agreements serve the interests primarily of the money classes. They reduce risks for Wall Street investors while raising the risk that workers in our heartland will lose their jobs and health care. They are manna for hedge funds, but a threat to the economic security of blue collar workers.

They leave people out of the question. Whether it is campesinos in Mexico trying to provide food for their families and eke out an existence taken from them by their own government in cahoots with ours through NAFTA, or auto workers in the Midwest pursuing the American dream of a house, a car, and a better life for their children, they are the forgotten people in our global economy.

As Mr. Velasquez noted, Mr. Cruz had a good heart and was working for the people. Mr. Cruz gave his life in service to the forgotten people. We honor his commitment and we extend our sympathies to his family, to his friends, and to the entire FLOC community of which our community is so very proud.

His horrific death reminds us how brutal and unforgiving the NAFTA-induced labor system has become across our continent. It is time to renegotiate NAFTA. It is time not to extend it further. It is time to require continental labor standards that uphold the dignity of human life, not extinguish it.

Mr. Speaker, I submit extraneous material for printing in the Record, and I thank my colleague from Washington for allowing me to speak.
[From the toledoblade.com, April 12, 2007]

U.S. Demands Probe of Slaying
(By Clyde Hughes)

The U.S. General Consulate Office in Mexico is pressing for a complete investigation in the beating death of a Toledo union worker found dead early Monday at the union's office in Monterrey, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) said yesterday.

Law enforcement officials from the state of Nuevo Leon are investigating the death of Santiago Rafael Cruz, 29, a Mexican native who has lived in Toledo since 1998 and had worked for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee as manager of its Monterrey office for three months, said Baldemar Velasquez, longtime president of the union.

Mr. Velasquez said he believed Mr. Cruz's death is directly related to FLOC's efforts to organize workers in the Monterrey area.

He said the union's education efforts made workers there less susceptible to people who would charge workers large sums of money to enter the United States illegally.

FLOC's program there recruits Mexican residents interested in going to the United States as part of a guest-worker program through a contract the union has with a North Carolina pickle company, union officials said.

Mr. Cruz was bound, gagged, and beaten, Miss Kaptur said yesterday.

She said she talked with Edward Heartney, consul for politics and economic affairs with the U.S. consulate general in Monterrey, who assured her he'd press the Mexican government for a thorough investigation and offer the assistance of the FBI.

Miss Kaptur said she also could call for a special investigation, which is allowed through the North American Free Trade Agreement, which would engage the labor departments of both the United States and Mexico.

She said the investigation provision in NAFTA, though, does not provide for sanctions.

``Right now, they need to do the basic policing work,'' Miss Kaptur said. ``Our government is engaged and I wanted [Mr. Heartney's] assurance on that. You see how NAFTA is contributing to this endless stream of people who are so vulnerable to exploitation.

``There are no worker protections under NAFTA. When [FLOC] does try to take the illegality out of what's going on there, this sort of horrendous tragedy occurs. It will be taken note of on a national level here.''

Mr. Velasquez said his union workers have been harassed there before for organizing workers and helping them obtain legal documents to work in the United States.

He said he believes that people running illegal operations to move Mexicans into the United States see FLOC as a threat.

``We're actually fighting the corruption that's prevalent in this area,'' Mr. Velasquez said via phone call from Monterrey. ``There's been 10 policemen killed here in the last year. We've educated the workers not to be taken advantage of and some people here don't like that, but we have to carry on the work.''

Mr. Velasquez said Mr. Cruz's body will be returned to Puebla, Mexico, where the majority of his family is located, for a funeral. He said arrangements for the funeral have not been made yet.

He said Mr. Cruz's work with FLOC, which dates to his arrival to Toledo in 1998, made a difference in the union.

``He had a heart for the people,'' Mr. Velasquez said. ``He spent his extra time consulting people, teaching them how not to get cheated and ripped off by phony promises by people who said they could get papers for undocumented folks, and he would explain any proposals out there for immigration reform.

``Basically, he wouldn't allow people to be duped by other people wanting to take advantage of people's ignorance. He was very effective at that.''

Mr. Velasquez and Miss Kaptur said the murder investigation is still in the early stages and both said they plan on following the results closely.


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