For the June interview for our newsletter we had the valuable participation of Julia Gómez, human rights defender of the LGBTTTIQ migrant community, general director and founder of the non-profit organization Vihctoria A.C, comprehensive care line 24- 7, and currently director of the Resource Center for Migrant Workers (CRTM) project.
Julia Gómez is originally from the Veracruz, she is currently 37 years old in Tijuana, and recently assumed the direction of the CRTM, a project founded by Sol Merino, financed by the International Labor Organization, and SUCOMM, whose objective is to guarantee justice employment for migrants.
Next, we invite you to read this interesting interview, which addresses one of the most important issues to address for the population in the context of mobility.
What is meant by labor law in the migrant community?
All these rights and guarantees that migrants have when they are providing a service, all the legal benefits that they must have and that are contemplated in the different laws that we have, such as social security for work, human rights and their labor rights, especially the non-discrimination for being in a context of mobility, that does not exempt them from having rights.
What labor rights must be guaranteed for migrants?
They have the right to social security, health, decent housing, and fair wages.
What is the importance of fulfilling labor rights in the migrant community?
May they have a decent life, whether they are just passing through. That they can have the guarantee that their rights and benefits are being recognized and respected. Being here they have their needs, therefore, they have the right to a good quality of life, they can exercise that when they have an economy that allows them to have a decent quality of life for everyone.
It is important because they also have families, they are the only providers. Being here for a long time, they must be able to work formally or informally, which will guarantee that they can provide well-being to the family they leave behind.
What are the main risks faced by migrants in their jobs?
There are several, they have to do with exploitation, public security, the violence that happens when they arrive at the place, in the case of women they have the risk of being abused or victims of white slavery, sexual exploitation and exploitation also occurs precisely because they do not know their rights, that makes them even more vulnerable, not knowing, for example, the language, in the case of people who come from other countries, not knowing the administrative processes that are here, not have an ID if you come from another country, you have to remember that in Mexico the age of majority is 18 years, but there are places like Honduras where the age of majority is 21 years.
There are times when people do not have an identification document, which makes them more vulnerable because they can be extorted and they are afraid to approach an institution because they do not have a way to say who they are and how to identify themselves.
Who is responsible for monitoring compliance with the labor rights of migrants?
It should be the government, to begin with. The government is the one who must provide this justice for all and also security in all senses, it is in charge of giving us that security, however, it is not like that. I think that in recent years there has been a lot of migration, we are talking about the fact that the United States has returned 1 million 700 thousand people, deporting them as a result of the pandemic, we have processes that took a long time due to the pandemic, and many of them were delayed in the different instances that deal with migration, that has left migrants and refugees who are in that context even more vulnerable and in that state of desperation and uncertainty.
Those of us who have contributed to the fulfillment of their rights are human rights defenders, and defenders of migrants, we work to guarantee their rights and that they are recognized.
How can migrants know their labor rights?
That is one of the rights that the person has, the right of access to information, to processes, to be informed about the administrative process that is going to be followed, to the legal process, they have rights.
Governments are also emphasizing that they know their rights, but we return to the same thing, when it is a person who brings some irregular situation or refuge, they are afraid to approach the authorities.
Some people are given a negative resolution because perhaps they did not adhere to the process of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR), more than 30 days passed and their case was given a negative resolution, even when they have everything to be able to do it, simply because they have not been in those 30 days, they are given a negative resolution.
Recently a person contacted me, who tells me he was a victim of violence three times, and although he reported his case in Chiapas and Sonora, his resolution before COMAR was negative. That person is at risk, as he was a victim on three occasions for not having his proof of entry into the country, so he does not want to go to the National Institute of Migration (INM). He no longer wants to approach it because by having a negative resolution he feels that they are going to arrest him and expel him.
This person who is here wants to work, but he does not know how to do it, he is afraid to go anywhere and be detained and deported, and he cannot return to his country because he was the victim of a crime and needs refuge, which is why he emigrated, so that’s what we’re here for, to be able to accompany and advise these people.
The fact of telling him “I will accompany you to the INM, and they are not going to arrest you because you are going to carry out a process because you have rights” is super important. When he heard those words said to him it was completely different as he told me “so yes, I will approach and go “. We already agreed that I will accompany him in his process, and like him, there are thousands and thousands of cases that are not going to be reviewed and do not know that after a negative resolution they have two options; that their case is reviewed before a COMAR instance, “hey, you know, this person did not finish with the due process, a review must be done” and that they give him a solution again. If there is a lag they can take advantage of people who do not have identification, then their rights are violated, especially in the workplace, and they may have to accept working conditions that do not comply with the guarantee of their rights, and suffer humiliation and exploitation. These are violations that occur to a person for the sole fact of not having a document and that there is no resolution. The fact is that there are thousands of people who are like this, that’s why it’s super important to support them with information and tell them that they have labor rights, even when they have an informal job. They don’t lose those rights, it’s just an administrative procedure and it’s not a crime.
What is the treatment that migrants receive in their jobs?
There are more sanctions, so to speak, for places and also more reviews for all places through the Ministry of Labor, there are more inspections in workplaces to guarantee the different protocols that exist, such as NOM-025 or that they adhere to NOM-035, in general, that is a benefit for all workers.
In the case of migrant workers, recommendations must be made to them and the recognition that the company must give them all the information that they have the same rights as others, guaranteed by the constitution. If they suffer a situation at work and would like to sue, they can do so and it is necessary to tell them that they have the right to file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor for Conciliation and Arbitration, and request an inspection, since their workplace does not tell them “you can sue me.” Because they do not say so, nor do they tell them that they have the right that if they are suffering harassment, psychological or sexual abuse at work, they have the right to terminate their contract and the company has to pay as if was firing him, and nobody knows.
Who notifies the workers that they have this right? The right to request an inspection or terminate the contract for being victims of a crime such as bullying, stress, or different emotional or physical causes.
Until now I have not seen a spot somewhere that says “you have the right to be able to terminate your contract if you are being harassed at work or are suffering violence.” Some companies are adhering to those standards or laws, but in Baja California, we need a lot of work in labor justice and for migrants even more. These limitations in employment due to the issue of their documents lead to many violations, it is necessary to be able to give them all the information that they have rights and above all accompaniment. When they feel accompanied it is different, it gives them security, it changes everything, for the defenders of Human rights it motivates us to see that this person is going to be guaranteed his rights and that he can be supported so that his life has something important.
Is it more common for migrants to go to work in the informal sector?
If it is more likely that they go to informal work, there are also many violations of their rights, as they do not have social security, no benefits, they do not have access to housing, and there are many irregularities that have to do with governance. It is necessary that employers carry out inspections, and that they know that not because they work in the informal sector they lose their rights, or because they do not have a procedure. Those cases are usually taken advantage of by the people who employ migrants who do not have a document, they demand more from them, and there comes labor exploitation, because of that it is necessary to inform all migrants that they have the right to have a decent treatment, a job fair and equitable that they do not have to lose their rights because of a procedure.
What kind of articulations between important actors have to take place to guarantee the fulfillment of labor rights for migrant people?
This is very interesting, a few days ago a working committee was just formed with a thematic panel for the labor inclusion of refugees. Many employers, not being attached to the rules and protocols that exist, are denying the right to work and from there they are violating the right of a person, denying them work because they are migrants. What they do is tell them “no, you cannot have a job because your card is for humanitarian reasons”, but a person being here for humanitarian reasons can include situations of not having access to their country, and from there they migrate because they do not have access to a good quality of life. They are then going to migrate to where they are going to be offered those opportunities to have a decent life, where they can provide for your family, starting from that point, how are they going to deny a job to a person for humanitarian reasons?
That has been happening, that is why I think that the government, the institutions, such as unions, I am going to mention Canacintra because it is one of those that were at this thematic table and they needed to join civil society, union organizations, organizations for the work and the institutions of migratory affairs, Secretary of Government, I believe that this will articulate positively in the inclusion and labor justice.
There are also international organizations such as the International Labor Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the International Organization for Migration. This generates synergy so that the labor rights of people are respected. I am very happy that this is happening.
What is the reason for the lack of visibility of the importance of guaranteeing the labor rights of migrants?
I think it is because the importance of labor law has not been diminished, that there are not many activists, just right now the issue is being taken up again with international organizations, and labor law unfolds the right to a dignified life. Now we have a large number of people staying in our state and our city, and most of the people intend to go to the United States, due to the policies of the United States and the closure of borders, putting so many obstacles to this refuge and the asylum for migrants has made us have more people. These migrants no longer see Mexico as a transit country but as a destination country, and we realize that there is great importance in labor rights. As a human rights defender, I had been making the issue of labor rights visible since 2019, but the pandemic just entered and NOM-035 was also approved, which I have been insisting on in many places.
I have visited several lawyers and they are not adhering to that rule either, however, there are already protocols given by the Secretary of Labor, and they are being implemented because it has been derived from the importance of labor justice, not only national, in the migrant issue nobody is paying attention to this problem, when there is no formal job, there is not going to be a good quality of life and that is going to lead to emotions and dangerous situations, as well as risks for the person because the majority of migrants at some point have engaged in sex work and they do not do it because they want to but out of necessity, of course, and it has an emotional and psychological effect. Labor justice and the issue of human rights must be addressed.
In 2019, I began to make this visible as a personal issue, but when NOM-035 came out I said: “There will be labor justice!”
Derived from harassment at work, I began to investigate and I realized that unfortunately, we do not have experts, or psychologists, for emotional reparation. We need certain guidelines that come in NOM-035, but Mexico was not prepared for this. Let’s just say that there is a way to socialize and present the protocols of violence and non-discrimination, equality in employment, issues such as age, race, disability, and gender. If we consider all this in the context of a migrant person, it is aggravated in the issue of the violation of their rights.
In case the elderly have less access to fair work, there are a series of violations of their rights, also people from the LGBT community, become more vulnerable, It is worse when you arrive with a migrant person, it is much worse, having all this knowledge from all this experience was what I said; “This is super important”, the fact that you do not have decent conditions in your employment, the guarantees, and all the rights that should exist and apart from that you suffer harassment, or a bad condition violates you. I already saw this aspect as something that I was going to focus on. I was even talking to some people to be able to make a documentary on labor justice. I had thought about women, especially in the LGBT community.
When they told me about this project, I already had everything in mind, I had not forgotten it, when they explained this project to me, I immediately said yes!
Sol Merino said that she was fine. When we started talking about this and human rights, at that moment he also said that I was the person he needed for this project. I am very committed, I feel more committed to this project every day, especially with being able to bring people to labor justice.
What led you to get involved in the issue of labor rights?
I think that something that brought me here was just that with Vihctoria A.C. and other organizations that I was leading around accompanying health services. When you take a person you listen a lot, you make a bond, people start talking to you precisely about this, their state of health and that they don’t have a who is in a situation of poverty, do not have a job, many said they had to do sex work, both men and women.
We all have valuable skills and abilities, there is not a person who does not have a skill, that is lost because the person does not have the conditions to have a good job and is where he does not deserve to be, but he must be there because he has to eat, paying the rent, support children. It’s super difficult to listen, not to get involved and not stay with it, it’s very complicated. I always thought that there had to be something she could do. I thought that I could take action, if I know that there is something that can benefit someone, I will do it. I also see it as a legacy for my family and the people around me, that has been my way of seeing what I do. I do not do it for myself, but for future generations, for my children, grandchildren, and if I have great-great-grandchildren, in this way I contribute to the social change that is so much needed.
I tell you, a recent experience, I came from home and on a cruise I saw a girl from an indigenous community, at most 14 years old, very skinny, barefoot, with her typical dress and her face painted like a clown, when I got to the traffic light she didn’t run with the balls she had in her hand, she was sitting on the sidewalk eating something, I couldn’t get up because I wasn’t allowed on the road. I had a commitment and I was going to be late, and I thought… well today I can’t get up, but I will come prepared later to be able to bring you information, I don’t know if I speak Spanish, but I will find a way to bring you information, I will take information, flyers or leaflets that have my number, there are in Spanish and Creole, I always try to have a list of services that they are free, and I will do that. I can’t keep seeing that someone is going through a situation like this, if nobody does anything I have to do something, I can’t stay inert in the face of so much social injustice.
I don’t know if there is going to be a change in that girl’s life, but maybe it will because maybe she doesn’t know how to read but her mother does or someone around her does and is encouraged to go to this customer service migrant. We cannot forget the internal migrants, displaced people from various parts of Mexico, communities, and indigenous peoples with whom we have a historical debt, both governmental and societal. In the situation of this girl, I saw how she is an internal migrant and I can do something. That is what is in my hands, to give her information. I am trying to adhere to self-care because I am usually quite emotional and I try to to be taking more care of my emotions and having a containment with myself and my emotions. I already see it this way, “so far I can at this moment, maybe another day I will be able to do more”. Doing little to be able to make a change.
What is the Resource Center for Migrant Workers (CRTM) doing?
The CRTM is a physical space where potential migrants and migrants, returnees, their families, and members of the community can visit and obtain information and assistance regarding migration. I believe that within all services beyond legal advice and free to promote justice, there is advice in case of conciliation, labor lawsuit, support in access to health in case of illness or accident. Many people can suffer an accident and do not know that this is classified as an accident at work and they have the right to incapacitate them. We advise so that they know what their rights are about access to justice, we have how to refer for advice on immigration procedures, just so that people who work informally and can later have a formal job that guarantees them the benefits they require and above all the right to health, is super important. If we do not have access to health, in our work it can become very expensive to get sick, in a migration context it can cost a person’s life.
Tell us about your Vihctoria A.C. project?
Victoria A.C. It is an organization that has done many things for the short time it has. Above all, being able to provide care and for people to know that there is a helpline that can attend to them, support them, and clear up doubts at any time, guiding access to medicines and medical attention every time we receive a call.
Lately, we have had calls from relatives that have moved me a lot, from parents, from sisters, from friends of a person living with HIV, that has left me moved, because before people used to isolate themselves more and live with their disease alone, that affects much about their emotional, physical and mental health, in every way, but when they express it with someone in their family, the chances that they feel better can access and seek information are enormous.
Some time ago a father who had a situation with his son asked me, “What do I do if he already has an appointment, how can I help my son? with my family so that you can give us this talk that you gave me just now, and that leaves me much calmer”.
As a father, his concern is losing his son, knowing that there are possibilities for him to recover, and have a good quality of life, that he has a full life like any other person, which left him calmer and left me very satisfied with Vihctoria’s work. . Each call, each message and each answer to questions is something that fulfills the purpose for which Vihctoria was created, to be able to help people through a telephone line without that barrier that exists, to end the stigma, it is something so important to us, we are putting our grain of sand.