FOLEY, Minn. (KMSP) - Back in May, Fox 9 watched as federal agents took away boxes and computers from a large house on a farm owned by John and Julie Svihel in Foley, Minn. We now know the raid was part of an investigation into both the Svihel's farm, and a man named Wilian Cabrera.
Cabrera was in charge of recruiting the farm's migrant workers from the Dominican Republic until he landed himself in jail, allegedly forcing workers “to pay illegal fees in order to receive United States visas and taking illegal 'cash kickbacks.'"
According to an affidavit, the Svihels themselves were part of that conspiracy, one that netted them $77,221 in illegal kickbacks and $170,100 in travel payments that were also illegal.
Cabrera had so-called "enforcers" who "threatened to break their neck" if workers talked to investigators.
“The law is very clear about what employers have to do to participate in the H2A program,” Loan Huynh, an immigration attorney at Fredrikson and Byron, not associated with the case, said. “Employers who are well informed, and work with individuals who inform them of their obligations under the law would not be in a position where they're violating the human rights of these individuals.”
Hunynh says employers using what are called H2A and B visas have clear rules to follow, and that not taking kickbacks or charging for travel are just the basics.
“The H2A program is set up to protect US workers, the employer has to test the labor market, pay the wage established by the department of labor,” Huynh said. “And it also protects the foreign workers too, who leave their families to come here for a short period of time to work for US employers.”