Written by the team of students who traveled to Mexico
Our enthusiastic team of eight HLS students and one supervising attorney ventured into the state of Queretaro, Mexico to provide free tax services for migrant workers in coordination with Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM). One week, many tacos, and $6,799 in refunds later, we are headed back to Boston with new perspectives on the challenges that migrant workers face in the US.
About 1,200 workers settled a class action against an employer in the US following poor working conditions and missing back pay. Some workers had federal taxes withheld from the settlement amount, which we were able to reclaim. We also helped migrant workers claim back year taxes for 2014, 2015, and 2016. For other migrant workers who did not have federal taxes withheld from the settlement amount, we helped them fill W-7 forms for individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITIN) in order to claim their dependents and file tax returns in the future.
While preparing tax returns, many migrant workers recalled cramped bunk houses, illegal and non-reimbursed recruiting fees, withheld W-2 forms from their employers, and paid tax preparation fees by the employer, often claiming fraudulent tax credits. On each of these issues, we tried our best to inform them of their rights remedies should they encounter these problems again.
None of this success would have been possible without the fantastic people at CDM. The CDM team organized workshops for community members in tandem with our tax clinics to discuss the resources available to prevent labor abuses, to navigate the immigration system, and to understand the American political climate. CDM’s history, expertise, and passion for advocacy on behalf of migrant workers have earned them the trust and respect of local communities. We learned so much from them and would urge other law students to work with them in the future. CDM is on the front lines of migrant worker labor rights, which have become more critical since the recent election. The anxiety among the population was palpable, especially in terms of their visa status and heightened racism. For many migrant workers, their US wages earned within a few months each year is their only income.
Outside of our work, we found time to soak up the culture and explore all that Mexico has to offer. We hiked La Pena, the world’s third largest monolith, which watches over the officially designated Pueblo Magico and is rumored to have mystical energy. Many of our group can now attest to its power. We sampled many delicious local dishes and indulged moderately in local liquors such as mescal and aguardiente. We even had a piñata to celebrate the birthday of Joanna Cornell (JD/MBA ’19)!
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn about direct client services while providing tangible assistance to an underserved community. We were able to save the migrant workers $6,799 through tax returns and $1,000 through saved tax preparation fees. We learned so much about the lives and challenges of migrant workers and had an unforgettable experience along the way.