Pascrell Leads 59 Colleagues Demanding Release of Imprisoned Mexican Labor Lawyer
Bogus charges against activist show questions linger on Mexico upholding renegotiated NAFTA terms as agreement is poised to take effect. USTR Lighthizer has called case a “bad indicator.”
Washington, DC, June 30, 2020
Tags: Labor & Trade
With the renegotiated North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) coming into force on July 1, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) today led 59 of his House colleagues in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on him to work to secure the release of Mexican labor lawyer Susana Prieto Terrazas, who was arrested and detained by the State of Tamaulipas in Mexico on June 8, 2020 on trumped-up legal accusations.
“We write to request that your department aggressively work to help secure the immediate release of imprisoned Mexican labor lawyer Susana Prieto Terrazas,” the members write. “As we approach the July 1 entry into force for the renegotiated NAFTA, the arrest of Ms. Prieto sends the wrong signal that the renegotiated NAFTA is not on track to deliver the improved Mexican labor conditions and thus diminished incentives for U.S. job outsourcing promised by this administration.”
Ms. Prieto has a long history of advocating for the labor rights of workers in factories near the U.S.-Mexico border. In her work, Ms. Prieto has demanded higher wages for workers in Mexican factories and defended workers protesting for proper health and safety measures to protect against COVID-19 in reopened facilities.
The letter to Sec. Pompeo is signed by Reps. Pascrell, Don Beyer (D-VA-08), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-01), Brendan F. Boyle (D-PA-02), André Carson (D-IN-07), Judy Chu (D-CA-27), David N. Cicilline (D-RI-01), Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), Danny K. Davis (D-IL-07), Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR-04), Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT-03), Ted Deutch (D-FL-22), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), Veronica Escobar (D-TX-16), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY-13), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-IL-04), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA-34), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ-03), Brian Higgins (D-NY-26), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-09), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA-04), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Dan Kildee (D-MI-05), John Larson (D-CT-01), Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Andy Levin (D-MI-09), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA-08), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), Grace Meng (D-NY-06), Gwen Moore (D-WI-04), Donald Norcross (D-NJ-01), Eleanor H. Norton (D-DC), Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ-06), Mark Pocan (D-WI-02), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), David Price (D-NC-04), Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), Bobby L. Rush (D-IL-01), Tim Ryan (D-OH-13), Linda Sanchez (D-CA-38), John P. Sarbanes (D-MD-03), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA-05), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-VA-03), José E. Serrano (D-NY-15), Terri A. Sewell (D-AL-07), Albio Sires (D-NJ-08), Darren Soto, (D-FL-09), Thomas R. Suozzi (D-NY-03), Mike Thompson (D-CA-05), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13), David Trone (D-MD-06), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY-07), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-23), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12), Peter Welch (D-VT-AL), Susan Wild (D-PA-07).
Rep. Pascrell raised Ms. Prieto’s case to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the 2020 U.S. trade agenda. Pascrell also highlighted the need for strong enforcement mechanisms to ensure Mexico honors agreed-upon labor reforms, echoing the many calls Pascrell has made in the past. Lighthizer agreed with Pascrell’s concerns, calling the arrest a “bad indicator” and assured Pascrell that his team was looking into the situation “very seriously.”
Rep. Pascrell opposed NAFTA 2.0 due to its lack of enforcement mechanisms, stating that “the big questions on Mexican labor laws, enforcement mechanisms, American wages, and scope of environmental standards, among others, remain unanswered.” He has also led House efforts to end the outsourcing of American jobs with his Bring Jobs Home Act, which would close tax loopholes for companies who ship jobs overseas and provide tax relief for American companies that move jobs to the U.S. from another nation.
A copy of the members’ letter is available here, the text of which is provided below.
June 30, 2020
The Honorable Michael Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Secretary Pompeo,
We write to request that your department aggressively work to help secure the immediate release of imprisoned Mexican labor lawyer Susana Prieto Terrazas. Ms. Prieto was arrested and detained by the State of Tamaulipas on June 8, 2020 on trumped-up charges for mutiny, threats and coercion.
We agree with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer who has labeled the arrest a “bad indicator” of the Mexican government’s compliance with new labor standards. We urge you to raise the issue of Ms. Prieto’s arrest at the highest levels with your counterparts in Mexico, including in the lead up to and at the reported upcoming White House summit between Donald Trump and the President of Mexico, and ask that you to demand Ms. Prieto’s immediate release. Continuation of Ms. Prieto’s case sends the wrong message to workers and activists that authorities in Mexico at all levels of government will not protect workers’ rights from threats and violations.
Ms. Prieto has a long history of advocating for the labor rights of workers in factories near the U.S.-Mexico border. In her work, Ms. Prieto has demanded higher wages for workers in Mexican factories and defended workers protesting for proper health and safety measures to protect against COVID-19 in reopened facilities. Ms. Prieto’s work has been important, as the deadly virus has killed dozens of workers. Activists like Ms. Prieto are fighting to implement recently improved Mexican labor laws by seeking to register a new independent union to replace a company-connected protection contract agreement, which is a core protection guaranteed by the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Mexico’s law.
While it was encouraging to see the Mexican Ministry of Labor and the National Commission for Human Rights call for due process in Ms. Prieto’s trial, it is a tragic commentary for labor reform in Mexico that judicial proceedings on this matter are even occurring given Ms. Prieto is being detained because she sought to organize independent unions and help Mexican workers defend their rights. Moreover, her life is at risk while awaiting a final resolution to her case because Mexican jails, like those in the United States, are hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission. This is made worse since Ms. Prieto was punitively denied bail.
We sincerely hope that all levels of the Mexican government respect labor rights, the freedom to organize independent unions, and independent bargaining powers enshrined in Mexican law and the renegotiated NAFTA. However, we question this commitment considering Ms. Prieto’s arrest, the subsequent treatment she has endured.
As we approach the July 1 entry into force for the renegotiated NAFTA, the arrest of Ms. Prieto sends the wrong signal that the renegotiated NAFTA is not on track to deliver the improved Mexican labor conditions and thus diminished incentives for U.S. job outsourcing promised by this administration. We urge you to raise these issues with your counterparts as soon as possible, especially in advance of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s reported visit to the United States.