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Pair accused of forcing excessive work, underpaying South Carolina farm workers

The two are charged with trafficking in seasonal farm workers.
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Two people are facing federal charges after federal prosecutors say they were trafficking season agriculture workers in South Carolina, forcing them to work long hours and failing to pay them due wages.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in South Carolina said Enrique Balcazar, 37, and Elizabeth Balcazar, 19, are charged with conspiracy to commit labor trafficking, fraud in foreign labor contracting, and confiscation of passports and immigration documents in connection with labor trafficking. Enrique Balcazar is also charged with two counts of labor trafficking. 

The two are both from Batesburg-Leesville. 

According to the Justice Department, the two operate a company called Balcazar Nature Harvesting, which provides season harvesting labor to South Carolina farms. The indictment says the Balcazars forced some of the workers to work excessive hours, failed to pay them their due wages, and threatened deportation for those who didn't work hard enough or produce enough. 

The indictment goes on to say they the pair confiscated the passports of some and carried, brandished, and discharged a firearm. 

Prosecutors say they are multiple victims, but didn't specify how many. 

“Our nation’s visa system is an asset that provides much-needed resources to our communities and valuable opportunities to those foreign workers seeking a new life here in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Corey Ellis in a statement. “Although the indictment speaks for itself, those who exploit the system and abuse these vulnerable workers will find no refuge here in South Carolina. Our office will utilize all available resources to bring such offenders to justice while rescuing and restoring victims in the process. Sadly, we know that many labor trafficking victims, both foreign and domestic, suffer here in the United States and that such violations frequently go undetected.”

“Labor trafficking and exploitation is real, and it is happening in South Carolina,” said South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel. “Agents have and will continue to work in collaboration with our local and federal partners to rescue those being victimized and bring justice to those who profit from the misery of others.”

If convicted, the two face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 each.