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LA Times: Arizona farm accused of abusing Mexican migrant workers

Farmworkers pick watermelon along Highway 95 in Yuma, Ariz., in 2015. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. Department of Labor is accusing an Arizona farm of housing about 70 Mexican farmworkers in dangerous and unsanitary conditions and paying them illegally low wages, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court last week.

Santiago Gonzalez, the owner of G Farms in El Mirage, Ariz., housed workers in school buses and trailers without any windows, in violation of federal safety regulations, officials said.

The workers were brought in under the federally supervised H-2A visa program, which allows U.S. growers to import seasonal laborers from abroad. Employers who use the program are required to pay a minimum wage set by the government and provide the guest workers free transportation and housing, which must include 50 square feet of sleeping space per person.

Regulators have ratcheted up scrutiny of the agricultural guest worker program in recent years, as employers increasingly rely on it to fill a labor shortage caused in part by a dramatic drop in immigration from Mexico. But federal investigators have uncovered cases of employers shorting wages, soliciting kickbacks, illegally deducting rent and holding workers hostage to their visas.

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