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Immigrant Workers, Sexual Assault, and Law Enforcement

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If you want to start your Sunday morning with a truly horrific story, here’s one on how a Florida tomato packing employer used his workers as a harem of women to rape on the job, how the police ignored the women’s complaints, and how it took a lawyer filing an EEOC complaint and using newspapers to get the story out to get any justice at all, justice that ultimately will be denied because there’s no way to collect the money from the now defunct employer. Meanwhile, the rapists walk free.

Aguilar didn’t realize it at the time, but she was far from the only worker victimized by the Moreno brothers and their foreman, a Mexican-born man named Javier Garcia. In fact, just a few days before she was fired, three other women from the plant had driven to LaBelle, the capital of Hendry County, and told deputies the trio had been systematically raping and harassing women.

That criminal case went nowhere. Neither Omar nor Oscar was ever interviewed by police about the allegations, and in May 2012, Hendry County Assistant State Attorney Jill Cabai recommended dropping the case because she “did not feel as though there was enough information present to support charges,” according to a police report.

But that wasn’t the end. With the help of Victoria Mesa, a South Florida attorney, the women filed a civil complaint with the EEOC and then reached out to Aguilar, who agreed to help. In all, three former workers, including Aguilar, would testify that either one of the Moreno brothers or Garcia had raped them on the job; two others testified the men had attempted rape.

It then took nearly two years before the feds filed a civil complaint against Moreno Farms. By then, the plant had already shuttered. The Moreno brothers and Garcia were nowhere to be found.

Other than the awful details, there are larger policy issues here. First is how the police not only ignore women’s complaints over sexual assault generally, but especially when they come from undocumented immigrants. The second is just how vulnerable undocumented immigrants are on the job generally, with few if any tools to fight against that exploitation because they fear deportation. Unless the police actually do something when rape or other illegal forms of exploitation take place, there’s almost nothing that can be done about them and even in a case like this where a jury does rule for the victims, the ability to close businesses to avoid payment makes enforcement a real problem.

Terrible stuff.

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