Deja Vu All Over Again for Mississippi Delta Catfish Farms and Foreign Workers

By David North on September 5, 2023

Can the reader think of an American county less “needing” foreign workers than poverty-stricken Sunflower County in Mississippi, which is 73.8 percent Black and has a poverty rate three times that of the nation?

Can the reader think of a crop that is more closely associated with Black Americans than catfish?

The answer to both questions is “no”, but yet another catfish farm in that county has successfully filed for foreign workers (H-2As) and in turn has been sued by two organizations representing American workers, Southern Migrant Legal Services and the Mississippi Center for Justice.

This time the foreign workers involved are from Mexico; in another, similar case last December the aliens were imported from both across the equator and across the Atlantic Ocean; they were (white) South Africans.

In both cases, Nobile Fish Farms (now) and Harris Russell Farms (then) had long records of hiring local Blacks, both secured some H-2A workers and began cutting Black employment, and both have been accused of paying their foreign workers more than their domestic ones.

In the earlier case, the workers and their lawyers settled with Russell Farms for an undisclosed amount of money. Perhaps the same resolution will be reached with Nobile Farms.

In such cases the employers usually pay the fees of the pro bono lawyers in the settlement.

Last year, the Department of Labor announced that it had found that 44 employers in the Delta area had underpaid domestic workers and had recovered more than half a million dollars for 161 workers, or more than $3,100 each. In addition, these employers were subject to civil fines totaling $341,838.

The press release at the time spoke of “exploitation of Black farmworkers in some of the nation’s poorest counties, including egregious violations of their workplace rights”.

For more on the most recent case, visit the PACER filing. The name of the case is Ballard et al v. Nobile et al; the case number is 4:23-cv-00161. It is the U.S. district court for the Northern District of Mississippi.