Report Recommends Comprehensive Reform of H-2B Migrant Worker Program in Maryland's Crab Industry

Recommendations based on over 40 interviews conducted in U.S. and Mexico


WASHINGTON, DC, July 14, 2010 – American University Washington College of Law is announcing the release of a report titled “Picked Apart: The Hidden Struggles of Migrant Worker Women in the Maryland Crab Industry,” a comprehensive look at the experiences of migrant workers in the Maryland crab industry.  The report is a collaborative effort by the American University Washington College of Law International Human Rights Law Clinic, and Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (“CDM”), a transnational non-profit organization dedicated to improving the working conditions of migrant workers in the United States.

Every year, hundreds of Mexican women travel thousands of miles from their impoverished, rural home communities to work on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the state’s historic crab industry. Maryland crab companies have increasingly come to rely on these women, who enter the U.S. on temporary guest worker visas known as H-2B visas. This report describes these women’s experiences as H-2B migrant workers, and is the result of over 40 formal interviews conducted in both the U.S. and Mexico since 2008. 

The interviews we conducted revealed a range of challenges faced by migrant workers in the Maryland crab industry,” noted Jayesh Rathod, assistant professor of law at the Washington College of Law.  “This report gives voice to the Mexican women who are the backbone of the industry, offering perspectives that can shape current policy debates.”

The report focuses on the entire migrant worker experience, including recruitment, placement and housing, working conditions and wages, workplace safety, discrimination, and employer-employee communication.  Based on these findings, the report makes key recommendations to reform the systemic flaws of the H-2B program at the national, state, and local level. 

“The women workers were charged exorbitant and illegal recruitment fees,” added Rachel Micah-Jones, executive director of CDM.  “Perhaps most shocking were the frequent and widespread reports of workplace injuries, including cuts, allergic reactions, and more severe infections from contact with contaminated seawater.”                                                                                                   

The experiences of the women in the report demonstrate structural flaws in the H-2B program.  These flaws implicate local, national, and transnational conditions.  To that end, the report’s authors have made recommendations, which can begin to remedy the workplace struggles the women currently face, as well bring the H-2B program into compliance with international norms.  Some of the recommendations include:

  • Extend Maryland minimum wage and overtime protections to crab pickers and other seafood workers;
  • Implement comprehensive, bilingual occupational health and safety trainings for new and returning H-2B crab workers;
  • Deploy bilingual health care outreach workers to the Eastern Shore to assess, on a periodic basis, work-related injuries or other health concerns of the H-2B migrant workers;
  • Educate H-2B crab workers at the beginning of each season about their basic rights as tenants in the state of Maryland;
  • Regulate recruitment practices, and sanction employers who utilize recruiters that charge excessive or improper fees to workers;
  • Reform guest worker visas so that workers are not tied to one employer, which will allow workers to leave abusive working conditions and still benefit from employment in the United States;
  • Urge the U.S. government to ratify the International Convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families.

For more information, please contact Jayesh Rathod of the International Human Rights Clinic at American University Washington College of Law at (202) 274-4459 or via email at or Rachel Micah-Jones, Executive Director of CDM, at (214) 796-7306.

# # #

American University Washington College of Law

In 1896, American University Washington College of Law became the first law school in the country founded by women. More than 100 years since its founding, this law school community is grounded in the values of equality, diversity, and intellectual rigor. The law school’s nationally and internationally recognized programs (in clinical legal education, trial advocacy, international law, and intellectual property to name a few) and dedicated faculty provide its 1700 JD, LL.M., and SJD students with the critical skills and values to have an immediate impact as students and as graduates, in Washington, DC and around the world. For more information, visit

Centro de Los Derechos del Migrante, Inc.

Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM) is a transnational non-profit organization dedicated to improving the working conditions of migrant workers in the United States. Rachel Micah-Jones, an alumna of the Washington College of Law, founded CDM in 2005 based on the premise that workers should have access to justice all along the migrant stream. In order to bring rights education and legal representation to workers in their home communities and in the U.S., CDM has offices in Zacatecas, Mexico, Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca, Mexico, and in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. With locations on both sides of the border, CDM has developed an innovative approach to legal advocacy and organizing that engages workers in their communities of origin, at the recruitment site, and at their places of employment in the U.S. Believing that the border should not be a barrier to justice, CDM ensures that when workers return home, they do not leave their rights behind.