Abuse in the Guest Worker Program

March 13th, 2007

According to the New York Times, the Southern Poverty Law Center has issued a report detailing abuse of foreign workers in the guest worker program.  The editorial states that before new guest worker legislation is enacted, we should take a close look at the current program to avoid such abuses.

According to Southern Poverty Law Center, in its report titled Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States – “Guestworkers who come to the United States are routinely cheated out of wages; forced to mortgage their futures to obtain low-wage, temporary jobs; held virtually captive by employers who seize their documents; forced to live in squalid conditions; and denied medical benefits for injuries.”

The report discusses abuses under the H-2 system administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, which is for the employment of temporary workers (seasonal, peakload, etc.) in the US. The program was created in 1943 to allow the sugar cane industry to bring in temporary workers and was expanded in 1986 to include non-agricultural workers.

In 2005, there were more than 121,000 temporary H-2 guestworkers, 32,000 H-2A workers for agricultural work and 89,000 H-2B workers for jobs in forestry, seafood processing, landscaping, construction and other non-agricultural industries.

THe SLPC report concludes that the H-2 guestworker program should not serve as a model for immigration reform, but instead should be overhauled if allowed to continue and it offers some concrete recommendations.  “Congress now has an opportunity to right this terrible wrong. As part of the reform of our broken immigration system, Congress should eliminate the current H-2 system entirely or commit to making it a fair program with strong worker protections that are vigorously enforced.”