Chilean students allege the community college took half their pay
A pending lawsuit brought by 14 Chilean students against Western Iowa Tech Community College and three Sioux City businesses survived a series of legal hurdles and is proceeding in court.
The students’ complaint alleged that community college officials misled them into coming to Iowa with J-1 visas to enroll in the school’s international education program and then trapped them in abusive conditions working for a food processing plant and dog-food factory.
A J-1 visa is intended for “for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs,” according to the State Department.
Roxanne Conlin, the attorney for the foreign students, told The College Fix in a June 22 email that the students were assigned their jobs based on “which of the companies needed manual labor” with “no consideration at all of what they were promised.”
“At this stage, we’re doing discovery. We sent over requests for emails and documents to the defendants [WITCC and the businesses involved in the suit], and the defendants are in various stages of responding,” Devin Kelly, associate attorney at Roxanne Conlin & Associates, told The Fix via phone on Monday.
On May 17, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa Leonard Strand dismissed charges of racketeering and indentured servitude against the defendants. However, he also let stand charges of human trafficking, fraud, breach of contract and emotional distress.
The complaint further alleged that Western Iowa Tech Community College promised the student that they would work in positions relevant to their academic fields, but that they were instead consigned to positions that “had no educational value and were completely unrelated to their fields of study.”
The school, with the assistance of the firm J&L Staffing, allegedly sent the students to work for Tur Pak Foods, a food packaging and assembly company in Sioux City, and Royal Canin, a pet food manufacturing company in North Sioux City, according to the complaint.
The students made $15 an hour working for each of these firms, though they themselves kept $7.25 per hour, according to the complaint. The rest was paid to WITCC and J&L Staffing, in part to cover students’ housing, tuition and fees, the complaint states.
Conlin told The Fix the students were not notified that part of their income was being collected, and that “they discovered this themselves.”
The students’ complaint also states they were told they would work “no more than 32 hours a week.” Instead, many students allegedly worked more than 50 hours a week.
In Western Iowa Tech Community College’s official statement regarding “questions and concerns” about the J-1 program, it states students agree to “work at least 32 hours a week at their sponsoring employer.”
The students attended classes full-time, according to the WITCC statement. However, the complaint also alleged that the students were “segregated” into separate classes from the rest of the student body.
“They did not get the chance to interact with residents of the state of Iowa and were precluded from exactly the cultural exchange they were promised,” Conlin told The Fix.
In response to a question from The Fix on why the students hired Conlin for the job, she stated that “I am well known in Iowa for taking on wrongdoers however powerful they may be.”
Western Iowa Tech Community College, Royal Canin and Tur-Pak did not respond to requests for comment by The College Fix.
IMAGE: Western Iowa Tech Community College