Allegedly, Javier Sanchez Mendoza Jr., 24, repeatedly raped a Mexican woman he had recruited for farm work in Georgia, according to a recent press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.
These allegations are the latest development in a federal investigation into modern slavery on farms in Georgia, known as Operation Blooming Onion.
Deceived, abused and kidnapped at knifepoint
After recruiting the victim, Mendoza deceived her, making her believe they had gotten married. He then brought her to live with him at his mobile home where he threatened, intimidated, and raped her repeatedly.
He also had her work at his home, collecting pine straw and helping with the payroll. Funds from other recruits were wired to her so that Mendoza’s name was not linked with the payments.
When she was finally able to flee, Mendoza allegedly tracked her down and kidnapped her at knifepoint, according to the press release.
During a rescue operation, the police found a shrine to “Saint Death” at Mendoza’s home. The woman’s hair and blood were used in the shrine, and officers interpreted it as a sign Mendoza intended to murder her.
Operation Blooming Onion
Mendoza admitted to recruiting over 500 people from Central America between August 2018 and November 2019. He is one of the three men implicated in Operation Blooming Onion who have pled guilty to charges related to forced labor. A total of 24 people were indicted for their alleged involvement in this criminal network.
The federal investigation has discovered what has been described as a “modern-day slavery” scheme through which traffickers charged their victims illegal fees to enter the U.S. and then forced them to work for little or no payment. Some victims also had their identification documents withheld.
“These men engaged in facilitating modern-day slavery,” the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, Davis Estes, said in a statement last week. “Our law enforcement partners have exposed an underworld of human trafficking, and we will continue to identify and bring to justice those who would exploit others whose labors provide the fuel for their greed.”
This trafficking ring charged their victims illegal fees for H-2A visas. This visa program enables laborers to come to the U.S. for temporary work in the agricultural sector. This fraudulent scheme has brought the visa program under scrutiny.
The case of California
California attracts more temporary foreign workers than anywhere else in the U.S. The vast majority of temporary workers are recruited via third-party foreign labor contractors (FLCs), some of whom act neither lawfully nor ethically.
The H-2A visa system leaves agricultural workers at risk of exploitation and trafficking at the hands of unscrupulous FLCs who have been known to drive to remote Mexican villages to find their recruits. They then take advantage of the desperation of low-income workers in these villages to increase their profits by charging high fees and deceiving them into exploitative work conditions.
The Freedom United community has been campaigning alongside our partner organization CAST calling on California to amend a bill that would better regulate FLCs and protect all migrant workers, regardless of visa or industry, from forced labor and human trafficking.
Join the campaign today and call on California to protect agricultural workers from exploitation.