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30 Mexican Workers Level Kidnapping Allegations Against Police In Mississippi Town
August 24, 2007, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Blogroll

30 Mexican workers level kidnapping allegations against police in
Mississippi town
By HOLBROOK MOHR Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. — Thirty Mexican nationals with visas to work in the
U.S. claim police in Pascagoula kidnapped and threatened them with
arrest or deportation if they did not return to an employer.

The workers, backed by the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, the
American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups, said
Wednesday that Pascagoula Police Capt. George Tillman threatened to
send them to jail if they didn’t return to work for a recruitment
company.

The workers plan to file a lawsuit accusing Tillman of “kidnapping,
kidnapping with intent to enslave, false imprisonment, human
trafficking, and violations of the workers’ civil and constitutional
rights,” they said in a news release.

Enrique Garcia, 41, one of the workers, said Tillman told the workers
the company “owned” them.

Interim Pascagoula Police Chief Eddie Stewart said in a statement that
the allegations were without merit. He said they stemmed from a “call
for service in which two private contractors were in a dispute over who
employed a group of workers.”

Officers handled the situation properly, he said.

“Our responding officers, with the assistance of Immigration Customs
Enforcement, explained to both the private contractors and the workers
their options,” Stewart said.

Jackson County Assistant District Attorney Brice Wiggins said Wednesday
his “office has not received a complaint or allegation on the matter.”

The workers said they received H2B temporary visas to work for
Southwest Shipyards in Channelview, Texas, but left the company because
they were paid less than they were promised and working conditions were
poor.

Under terms of their visas, the workers were permitted only to work for
the company that sponsored them. A message seeking comment left after
hours Wednesday with Southwest Shipyards was not immediately returned.

The workers said they were promised jobs by a labor recruiting company
but that after six days of waiting in cramped mobile homes the company
had put them up in, they left for Pascagoula Miss., where they found
work repairing ships.

The workers said an official from the labor recruiting company tracked
them down and showed up with Tillman and at least two other officers on
Aug. 2. They said Tillman told them the recruiting company owned them
and that could be jailed if they didn’t return to work.

Garcia said the workers were not searched, handcuffed or detained by
the officers, but that the way they were handled merits their
kidnapping claim.

“Capt. Tillman told us that we had two options: that either we go back
to work … or be detained,” he said.

Patricia Ice, an attorney for the Mississippi Immigrants Rights
Alliance, acknowledged that the men were in violation of their visa
agreement by leaving the original employer. But the company had
violated agreements with the workers, she said.

The workers, all from Veracruz, Mexico, said they paid a recruiter
between $1,500 and $2,000 to come to the U.S., expecting to make $16.50
an hour. Instead, they said Southwest Shipyards paid them $14 an hour,
of which they only kept $12 an hour after transportation and living
expenses were deducted.

With outside help, the workers escaped to New Orleans, where they have
been living without work or money, according to The (South Mississippi)
Sun Herald.

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