By Yimer Iriarte Banegas
Yimer worked in Minnesota for Ricardo Batres, who eventually pled guilty to labor trafficking and insurance fraud. It was one of the first labor trafficking cases brought in Minnesota, with help from worker organizations and the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. Yimer’s story may be shocking to some, but it is all too common in the construction industry. Tax Fraud has real world impacts on workers, law-abiding companies and all of our communities.
I came to the U.S. alone from Honduras in 2013, when I was a teenager. I had no one to look after me. A couple of years later I started working, mostly wood framing, and I moved around to different states. Labor brokers know you’re very weak. I had to move with them and take whatever pay they gave.
In Minnesota, I worked for a guy who kept us busy and treated us ok, but the pay was very low. He had us living in a hotel, four to a room.
Ricardo Batres started coming around our job. He offered us plenty of work and higher pay, better conditions and a better place to live. He kept coming back, making a lot of promises, like how we could go on boat trips. We believed him and felt we could trust him.
About 15 of us left our job and went to work for Ricardo. That was when things started changing drastically.
We lived in a small house that Ricardo rented. There was no hot water and six or eight people slept in one room. We were not allowed to cook. The house was terrible and Ricardo never came to help.
Ricardo had jobs building townhouses and small commercial buildings. We would start work early and not go home until 7 or 8 o’clock at night, about 60 or 70 hours a week. There was a lot of verbal abuse. If we tried to take a break and eat something, Ricardo would threaten us.
Ricardo promised us $24 an hour, but he paid us whatever was convenient for him—it was never the amount that he owed. Sometimes he paid by personal check, other times in cash in an envelope. We wondered if he was deducting rent from our pay. He did not take any taxes out. We didn’t know anything about our rights, and he could manipulate us.
I think the people who hired Batres again and again, they knew what was going on, but they were making a lot of money.
Ricardo didn’t teach us how to prevent injuries and if you fell down or twisted your ankle or got stuck with a nail, he didn’t care. He made you keep working or sent you home—he never took anyone to the hospital. He said if we went to the hospital, he would call Immigration.
One guy dislocated his knee very badly and couldn’t walk. Ricardo just left and we tried to help him, but we could only take him to a “huesero” [healer] who did not have a license. I hurt my back and it was the same thing. My back still bothers me.
Finally, some of us told him we would not take any more abuse and we were quitting. He made serious threats. The next day, immigration picked us up and brought us to a detention center.
A lot of the group got deported, but a few of us told the authorities we wanted to fight for ourselves. I am only telling my story now because we were allowed to stay and fight for our case.
Ricardo began visiting us in detention, playing with our minds. It was like a nightmare, seeing his face while in jail. He told us he got us an attorney and the judge would ask where the attorney was, but there wasn’t one. Ricardo was hoping we would get deported.
I spent over six months in detention. Ricardo got a slap on the wrist for what he did—and he is out and working. I hope I don’t run into him again, and I think about others who may be suffering now.
Batres pled guilty to labor trafficking and insurance fraud and was sentenced to four-to-nine months in jail plus five years’ probation. He served just 90 days.
Business Representative Jorge Duran helped with translation for this interview.