- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Six immigrants are suing two Mississippi companies, saying the firms misled them about wages they would be paid to work in landscaping jobs under contracts with the state Department of Transportation.

The workers are all from Mexico and came to Mississippi under the H-2B temporary visa program that allows people to work in the United States in time-limited jobs.

The lawsuit says they worked for one of the companies, doing groundskeeping on the sides of state highways.

Southern Poverty Law Center filed the lawsuit on behalf of the workers against Collins-based Culpepper Enterprises, which hired them; and Pascagoula-based North American Labor Services Inc., which recruited them.

Calls requesting comment from the two companies were not immediately returned Tuesday.

“These guest workers were exploited for profit,” Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Sarah Rich said in a news release Tuesday. “Year after year, Culpepper Enterprises landed lucrative state contracts while defrauding these workers and the U.S. Department of Labor to enrich itself. This abuse occurred under the noses of state officials.”

The lawsuit originally was filed in June. Rich filed an update to the court papers Tuesday, adding allegations of corruption against the companies.

The suit says one of the plaintiffs, Victor Sanchez-Jaimes, of Tijuana, Mexico, worked in Mississippi between 2011 and 2014.

The other plaintiffs live in or around the Mexican city of Tepic. The suit says Oscar Pacheco-Santana worked in Mississippi from 2012 to 2014; Jose Delgado-Palomera worked in the state in 2013 and 2014; and Nestor Delgado-Zamorano, Joel Tapia-Ruiz and Adan Esparza-Haro worked in the state only in 2014.

The lawsuit, which represents only one side of a legal argument, says that when officials from Culpepper Enterprises and North America Labor Services signed the temporary labor certifications for the workers, the officials “knew Culpepper Enterprises would not pay the offered wage rates set forth in the applications.” The suit says the workers often did not even receive the federally mandated minimum wage, and the companies charged the workers for tools, protective gear and uniforms and “an excessive amount” for employer-arranged housing.

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