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Guatemalan workers allegedly swindled out of work permits now face deportation

Migrant workers say they were paid as little as $300 for working 85 hours a week.

More than a dozen migrant farm workers from Guatemala say they were cheated out of their work permits and treated like “slaves” after coming to Quebec earlier this year.

The workers were taken into custody when immigration officials raided a job placement agency in Victoriaville, Que., last month, and are now facing deportation.

“We thought this was a good place to work and earn a good salary,” Juan Antonio Godoy Enriquez, one of the workers, said at a Montreal news conference Tuesday.

“But at each place we worked, we became slaves and were not paid what we were promised.”

Enriquez said the workers were sometimes paid as little as $300 for working 85 hours a week.

“We were still getting paid better than back home, so we kept our mouths shut,” he said.

Enriquez said they were working at a farm in Victoriaville when a placement agency, Les Progrès Inc., encouraged them to leave their jobs to fill in at other farms in central Quebec.

He said the agency promised them work permits to make the move.

Instead, the agency took thousands of dollars off their pay, but never actually applied for the permits, he said.

The Canada Border Services Agency said its officers led the raid on October 26, as part of an investigation into unauthorized workers. Both the RCMP and the Sûreté du Québec confirmed they assisted in the operation.

Les Progrès owner Esvin Cordon, who is also originally from Guatemala, told Radio-Canada on the weekend that he has nothing to hide. He declined to comment further when contacted by CBC News on Tuesday.

None of the allegations made by the migrant workers have been proven in court. Cordon’s lawyer, Lydie-Magalie Stiverne, said he was also arrested during the raid but has not been charged with a crime.

“He says the allegations are completely false,” Stiverne said. “And he says he always wanted to do everything legally.”

Stiverne says Cordon told her the migrant workers approached him for work.

He agreed to find them jobs, on the condition they applied for a change in their immigration status. The workers signed a contract with another agency to take care of that, she said.

“To see his reputation tarnished, it’s very hard for him right now,” Stiverne added.

cbc

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