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'Ghost Worker' Identity Theft Common in Migrant Farm Work

Research shows identity theft facilitated by companies is common in migrant farm work. (Pixabay)
Research shows identity theft facilitated by companies is common in migrant farm work. (Pixabay)
July 14, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Farm workers are frequently forced into becoming identity thieves in order to get jobs, according to a new report from theUniversity of Colorado.

The research showed that many agribusiness companies routinely give migrant workers who can't legally work in the U.S. valid documentation belonging to someone else to mask their identity from authorities. Sarah Horton, who authored the report, said the practice is so common, farm workers have a term for it: Trabajando Fantasma, or "Ghost Worker." She said the practice also helps companies hide the use of child labor and suppress workers' compensation claims.

"When they worked as 'ghosts,' they were terrified of being discovered and being charged with identity theft,” Horton said. "So, most ghost workers said that if they were injured, they would never report the injury."

To avoid paying overtime, some bosses made employees work under a different identity on certain days of the week, Horton found. She said friends and family members of supervisors handed over valid documents to get kickbacks and boost their reported Social Security earnings.

In California, where Horton conducted more than ten years of research, children younger than 18 can't legally work more than eight hours a day or 48 hours a week. But during harvest season, she found young workers routinely putting in up to 70 hours in a week. To get around child labor laws, she said, bosses often require minors to work under adult documents.

"Some employers do mask the identities of underage workers to hide their hire from state and federal authorities,” Horton said. "So, they intentionally provide minors with the valid documents."

A federal appeals court recently ruled that law enforcement can continue to prosecute undocumented immigrants for working with forged, loaned or stolen documents. Horton said she's hopeful the research will give judges more information about the role the employers play in the practice.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY