(AP) — A second federal lawsuit accusing a pair of Oklahoma business owners of luring immigrants to the US on work visas then paying substandard wages highlights what some attorneys say is a prevalent human trafficking issue in the United States that seldom calls violators to task.
The latest legal action, filed in Oklahoma City in June, is by three Jamaican immigrants who came to the US under student work visas between 2008 and 2012. It follows a similar lawsuit filed in 2017 by three Filipino immigrants who came into the country on temporary work visas in 2012.
The Oklahoma lawsuits name husband-and-wife Walter and Carolyn Schumacher and companies they own and operate in Clinton, about 80 miles west of Oklahoma City, alleging the workers were paid less than minimum wage, charged for housing that was to be free or low-cost, and were given fewer work hours than promised.
While there have been previous civil lawsuits over the treatment of immigrants in the United States on work visas, immigration attorney Kent Felty of Denver said they are and will continue to be rare, partly because of the language barrier immigrants face, their unfamiliarity with US law, and the amount of time it would take an attorney to win what might be a small judgment.
“You can say it’s not about the money, but it’s about the money … you can’t do it as a private attorney, it’s all about if you’re going to get paid, ” said Felty, who is not involved in the lawsuits.
“Maybe it’s a thousand dollars. Where are you going to find attorneys to take that case for a thousand-dollar judgment?” Felty asked.
Jury selection would also be problematic, Felty believes.
“Half the country would give them a million dollars on a thousand dollar case, and half the country would like to see them deported,” said Felty, who successfully sued the John Pickle Company in Tulsa and Falcon Steel Structures, Inc, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, over claims similar to the allegations against the Schumachers.
Felty said none of the US$1.3 million judgment in the Pickle case was paid while the Falcon case was settled for an undisclosed sum.
The plaintiffs in the current cases are represented by the non-profit Equal Justice Centre, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom law firm, which provides pro bono services.