Colorado is one of the biggest sheep and lamb producers in the nation. But is it doing enough to prevent the abuse of its immigrant workers?
While the sheep and lamb business booms, activists are doing what they can to improve sheepherders’ plight. John Peroulis and Sons Sheep Inc., a ranch that has faced several lawsuits and complaints of worker abuse as far back as 1990, is currently being sued by a group of former herders. CLS attorney Lee also has filed complaints to the CDLE on behalf of several sheepherders. According to Lee, the employer, which she confirmed is not Peroulis and Sons, withheld personal documents, did not provide legally required regular pay statements, and routinely intimidated them with verbal abuse and threats of deportation.
While not all ranchers are guilty of these offenses, industry officials are aware that the rights of immigrant sheepherders must be addressed and improved. “We’ve always said that there are isolated cases where there’s been abuse and something bad has happened,” says Bonnie Brown, spokeswoman for the Colorado Sheep and Wool Authority. “And you know what? That happens in any industry. And nobody wants to see that.”
Conovilca-Matamoros still lives in Colorado and now works in an orchard. He received his teaching license in Peru, and he’s looking for a way to teach Spanish in Colorado. He still doesn’t understand how U.S. laws allow people to live in conditions like sheepherders endure. “Americans have always complained about illegal immigrants,” he says in Spanish. “But when we come with a legal permit to work, we receive this ill treatment.”