In 2014, thousands of refugees from Central America fled violence, repression and poverty and made the perilous, often deadly, journey to the United States. As many as 74,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the U.S. border in 2014, some 18,000 of them from Honduras, where children and their families are fleeing their communities at a higher rate than in any other country in Central America.
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre and Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen spoke to a packed room in the Capitol building this Monday about a recent labor delegation to Honduras, where the two U.S. labor leaders met with labor, faith and community partners and government officials. The briefing coincided with the release of a new report based on the delegation’s findings, which analyzes the intersection between the migration crisis and U.S. trade and immigration policies and proposes policy solutions.
At the briefing, the two leaders stressed the need to address our failed trade policies, which have done nothing to create decent work, drive equitable development or protect workers who try to exercise their rights. Instead, as the report details, the trade deal has displaced subsistence farmers and driven down wages and standards. Corporations pay poverty wages and operate with almost complete impunity. By the Honduran Labor Ministry’s own estimate, close to 70% of employers do not pay the legally mandated minimum wage. Workers who try to organize for better conditions are subjected to threats, harassment and physical violence.
In 2012, the AFL-CIO and a coalition of Honduran worker organizations filed a complaint under the labor chapter of the Central American Free Trade Agreement detailing the deplorable conditions in the country, but in the past three years there has been no response from the U.S. government, highlighting the fundamental weakness of labor protection in our current trade agenda.
The lack of opportunity combined with systemic violence and repression causes many Hondurans to leave their homes and make the often perilous journey north. However, when they arrive, they confront immigration policies that do not adequately protect refugees or offer hope for families trying to build a better life.
There is a critical need to reorient U.S. trade and migration policies to protect and empower workers and ensure that the root causes of the crises—poverty, violence and a lack of decent work— are addressed. The AFL-CIO report provides a list of recommendations for the United States and Honduran governments on steps that need to be taken to address the failure of these policies and the needs of workers and their families.