Farmworkers in America are some of the most vulnerable and exploited people in the country. Guestworkers largely come from Mexico and other parts of Central America, and even those who are able to make it to the U.S. through legal channels — a State Department H-2A visa — are susceptible to wage theft, unsafe working and living conditions, and retaliation should they complain about it. For undocumented farmworkers, conditions are even worse.
According to an AP story, being a farmworker at one particular Kansas ranch is an absolute horror show. At the Fullmer Cattle Co. in Syracuse, KS, at least five former employees told the AP that the company smuggles undocumented farmworkers into the country and then forces them to pay off loans for doing so. One Mexican worker, Esteban Cornejo, worked at the ranch for eight months, and here’s what he had to show for it:
The pay stub Cornejo shared with The Associated Press shows he worked 182.5 hours at $10 an hour over two weeks — an average of 15 hours a day with Sundays off. His pay was $1,828.34 before taxes. Also deducted was a $1,300 “cash advance repayment” that he said was a company loan for bringing him into the country.
His take-home pay was $207.46, the pay stub shows, or just over $1 an hour working at Fullmer Auto Co. Texas LLC, which does business as Fullmer Cattle.
According to Arturo Tovar, who was a Fullmer manager for eleven years before being fired by the company, this is how the process worked:
The company would give Arturo Tovar a check, which he would cash. A partial payment was made to the smuggler upfront and the rest when the immigrant reached San Antonio or Houston, where the immigrant would be picked up. If law enforcement asked questions about the cash, the employee was instructed to say it was for used cars the company bought at Texas auctions.
Rachel Tovar, a U.S.-born citizen, said that once the loan to bring an immigrant into the country was almost paid, the company often sold used vehicles to employees in what she believes was an effort to keep them in debt.
Fullmer isn’t a fly-by-night operation, either; the farm raises calves for dairies in four different states. In 2005, the Amarillo (Texas) Globe reported that the company was building a $12 million ranch, whose manager called the Fullmer Cattle Co. “probably one of the largest calf raisers in the United States, if not the world.”
The company’s attorney denied all allegations to the AP, and the company contends that Arturo and his wife Rachel, who also worked at the farm, “have an agenda and lack credibility.” But the AP reports that in 1999, Fullmer pled guilty to immigration violations in California and was sentenced to six months home detention and a $10,000 fine, after one California labor official compared conditions at a farm he owned to “economic slavery.” Not much has changed in twenty years, apparently!
This isn’t the first time Fullmer has made national news this year. In January, ThinkProgress reported that Fullmer, a registered Republican, was being prosecuted for double-voting by Kansas Secretary of State and former Commission on Election Integrity vice chairman Kris Kobach, after Fullmer cast ballots in both Kansas and Colorado during the 2016 election. The story characterized Fullmer as a “confused senior.” (The AP reports the case is still pending.)
“I just voted in state things in both states. In only one of the states I voted in the general,” Fullmer told ThinkProgress.