We’re Not Saudi Arabia but……

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about a Thai worker in Saudi Arabia beheaded for killing her abusive boss.  One article I’d read said most of the 100 people on death row in Saudi Arabia are domestic workers imported from Thailand.  Over the years, we’ve all read stories about abuse in foreign countries of workers imported from other foreign countries. The TV show Law and Order and movies such as Slumdog millionaire drew attention to human trafficking.  But it was only

But it was reading about the abuse of the J-1 student visa program by Hershey that made me do a bit of research on other US guest worker programs that bring a couple hundred thousand farm and other unskilled laborers into the US each year.  Some of the employers, maybe even most, who use these programs are open and above-board.  But even they may not know that the workers they hire have paid fees to recruiting agencies up to thousands of dollars or were promised coveted green cards after working a length of time.

The following articles  show how vulnerable foreign workers are to abuse in these legal programs operated by the Departments of Labor and State.  I shudder to think of what the crews of gardeners, construction workers and day laborers that are everyday features of American urban and suburban life, most of whom are can’t speak a word of English, come away with.

extensive 2010 article looks at one case from the perspective of the worker and Blue Horizons, the contract staffing agency hired by several employers.

reports on a suit filed by Indian workers hired by Allied Signal to work on oil rigs in the South, some of whom paid $10,000 for the ‘opportunity’ and then subjected to abusive working conditions

represented migrant workers imported to clean up in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Finally, the reports of the frustration of California farmers who feel their livelihoods are threatened by some of the restrictive immigration laws favored by conservatives.

All demonstrate that the problems are not just the result of some bad apples manipulating a good program.  The guest worker programs are structured to make abuse of employees easy and common.

1.  The guest workers are imported to work for specific companies who control how much they make, where they live and how long they stay.

2.  The government contracts out with private staffing firms who then contract with employers.  Often sub-contractors are used within the hiring chain.  Employers can plead ‘plausible deniability’, staffing agencies point the finger to subcontractors and they blame everything on a particular employee.

3.  Government agencies administering the programs have no effective ways or systems to monitor the programs’ projects.

4.   Mother Jones reports that one worker who escaped from his American indentured servitude whose family is still constantly threatened by the staffing agency recruiter in Thailand.  The US government doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to care about this extortion carried out in the name of J-1 and H-2 visas.


 

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