The 21st-Century Version of Slavery Is Widespread in America
The H-2B visa program that brought 83,000 foreign guestworkers to the U.S. in 2011 for non-farm work has become a stalking ground for some of the worst abuses in American capitalism, according to recent reports by anti-poverty law groups. These reports describe in excruciating detail how predatory capitalists in many manual labor-based industries (supplying national brands like Walmart) lure and prey upon foreigners whose jobs average less than $10 an hour with little regard for human rights, labor law or legal consequence.
“We called it modern-day slavery,” said Daniel Contreras, who borrowed $3,000 to come from Peru and whose story is told in the Guestworker Alliance report. He was one of 300 foreigners brought to New Orleans by a hotel chain after Hurricane Katrina. “Instead of hiring workers from the displaced and jobless African-American community, he sent recruiters to hire us. At around $6 an hour, we were cheaper. As temporary workers, we were more exploitable. We were hostage to debt in our home countries. We were terrified of deporation. And we were bound to [owner Patrick] Quinn and could not work for anyone else. We were Patrick Quinn’s captive workforce.”
“I was so devastated by our situation. I wanted to go home but couldn’t because I had no money,” said Julia, who paid $1,500 to come to the U.S. in 2009 from Jamacia to work as a housekeeper in Florida. “After nearly one month of working 40 hours or more a week cleaning hotel rooms, Julia and her coworkers had not received a single paycheck,” SPLC reported. Julia said, “I came to the United States to work and so I could help my family and save to go back to school. I had never been treated so badly before, and I felt like there was nothing I could do about it.”
Under the H-2B visa program, the foreigners are trapped. They’re not allowed to work for anyone else. “Unlike U.S. citizens, guestworkers do not enjoy the most fundamental protection of a competitive job market—the ability to change jobs if they are mistreated,” SPLC said. “They are bound to the employers who ‘import’ them. If guestworkers complain about abuses, they face deportation, blacklisting or other retaliation.”
Update: THE NATIONAL GUESTWORKERS ALLIANCE is a not-for-profit group working to advocate for this segment of our society. Looks like they are doing their job getting the word out.