Lawsuit accuses Navajo businessman and Taiwanese entrepreneur of forced labor on illegal marijuana farm

Fifteen Chinese immigrant workers have filed a lawsuit alleging forced labor on an illegal marijuana farm situated on Navajo land, with Navajo businessman Dineh Benally and Taiwanese entrepreneur Irving Lin facing legal action. The workers claim they responded to job advertisements promising a daily wage of $200 and provided accommodation for what they believed to be gardening and flower-cutting work. However, upon arrival in Shiprock, New Mexico, they alleged their phones and car keys were confiscated, and they were forbidden to leave. Some workers were even separated from their families.

The lawsuit contends that at least 19 motel rooms in the nearby city of Farmington were utilized to house workers, where they were monitored by armed security personnel and subjected to harsh working conditions. In October 2020, local police received reports of a strong marijuana odor emanating from the motel. Subsequently, a raid discovered 2,000 pounds of cannabis valued at $3 million to $10 million. Immigrant workers were initially arrested at the scene, but the charges were later dropped.

In late 2020, federal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies also raided marijuana farms in Shiprock, destroying 250,000 plants. Lin, in a March 2021 affidavit, denied any violations of human rights or involvement in violence or human trafficking.

Phillip Francisco, the former chief of police in the Navajo Nation, estimated that the marijuana farms employed approximately 1,000 to 2,000 people, primarily foreign workers transported from Los Angeles. Lin, who immigrated from Taiwan several decades ago, conducted seminars for Asian Americans in 2021 on how to profit from cannabis cultivation. He stated that marijuana cultivation could become a major business within the Chinese immigrant community. Despite marijuana being legalized in New Mexico at the state level in 2007, it remains illegal within the Navajo Nation’s boundaries.