JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Forty-four farms in Mississippi exploited local black workers by paying higher wages to immigrants in the United States on temporary work visas, the JACKSON Department of Labor said Wednesday. USA.

The department announced it has completed investigations it began last year in the rural plains of the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest areas in the US.

The 44 farms include catfish farmers and operations that grow crops such as rice, soybeans and corn. They have paid $505,540 in back wages to 161 workers, plus $341,838 in civil penalties, the department said.

“The outcome of these investigations confirms that employers in the Mississippi Delta denied large numbers of marginalized farmworkers their legal wages and, in some cases, violated the rights of American workers by giving preferential treatment to temporary guest workers. said Audrey Hall, district director. of the Wage and Hour Division in Jackson, Mississippi.

The Department of Labor announced its findings six months after two agricultural businesses in the Delta settled lawsuits filed on behalf of local black farm workers on claims that farms hired white workers from South Africa and paid them more than local black employees for the same type of work.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that its investigations found that employers violated several requirements of the H-2A visa program, including by failing to pay required wages to US workers in immigrant-like jobs.

The department also said the farms failed to disclose all conditions of employment, failed to provide accurate anticipated work hours and bonus opportunities, made illegal pay deductions, failed to provide required reimbursements for travel expenses, and failed to comply with the record keeping requirements.

The Mississippi Center for Justice filed one of the lawsuits that was settled last year. The center collaborated with the Department of Labor to protect exploited workers, said Juan Coria, regional administrator for the Atlanta-based department.

Hall praised local black farmworkers for speaking out about the issues.

“The courage they showed has helped workers across the Delta finally receive their back wages,” Hall said.

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