Manufacturing facility, group school accused of human trafficking
Community College used a recruiting company to lure South American students into factory jobs.
A federal lawsuit filed by nearly a dozen South American students, notably two from Brazil and nine from Chile, in the northern district of Iowa, named Western Iowa Tech Community College and the recruiting firm J&L in Sioux City, which the two accused of luring students to have the state under a labor studies-based program in 2019 only to force them to work in a pet food factory in positions unrelated to their fields of study. The lawsuit alleges that the students were paid significantly less than their counterparts in the United States and that some of their income was taken from their checks given to the college and agency to continue the fraud.
Community College began its J-1 program with 60 students who moved to Iowa in July and August 2019. By November of this year, the US State Department was investigating the program after an anonymous complaint was filed. In January 2020, the college issued a statement saying that “the students on the program were unhappy and to blame for the non-clarification of expectations and a disruption in communication for some of the issues”. The students were enrolled in courses but kept separate from the general population, “only teaching with other Brazilians and Chileans under the J-1 visa program,” the lawsuit said.
Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash
Civil rights attorney Roxanne Conlin represents the plaintiffs. She filed the lawsuit under the Federal Act to Protect Victims of Human Trafficking, the Fair Labor Law, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and alleged violations of the Iowa Wage Payment Collections Act.
Conlin said, “It seems to us that the documents are very clear about what promises were made. It is also clear that they never had a program to teach these students robotics or culinary arts. You worked for an animal feed manufacturer. You can’t force or persuade people to go to work by making false promises, and that’s what they did here. “
The jobs the student held were at a Royal Canin pet food factory in North Sioux City, South Dakota, and at Tur-Pak Grocery in Sioux City packaging food. Conlin said he would like clients to have actual training from the institution. She is also asking the court to end the J-1 visa fraud study program and to grant the students damages.
“The defendants jointly called on the plaintiffs to work under conditions that represented involuntary bondage,” the lawsuit said. “The defendants took advantage of the natural isolation that occurred because the plaintiffs were immigrants with limited English skills.”
Andrea Rohlena, the college’s director of marketing, replied, “The Western Iowa Tech Community College vehemently denies the claims made in the lawsuit. These allegations are completely false, sensational and offensive. We look forward to defending the college and its staff in a district court and we appreciate the opportunity to refute these malicious allegations. “
This isn’t the first time the community college and program have been the center of litigation recently. The first was filed in November 2020 on behalf of eight Chilean students who claimed they had been brought to Iowa to go into debt at a Sioux City, Iowa food packaging facility and dog food factory by giving them a degree with free tuition, Rooms and lessons offered blackboard. “
Lawsuit: The community college program was human trafficking
Eleven students from Brazil and Chile file a human trafficking lawsuit against Iowa Community College, accusing them of luring them into a work study program just to get them into factory jobs making pet food