Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Guestworkers' Dream of a Better Tomorrow Becomes Exploitation Nightmare

In 2006 Vijay Kumar and Sony Suleka travelled from India to Mississippi with a promise of gainful employment and a better life by labor recruiters in return for $20,000 (Associated Press). The advertisement for welders and pipe fitters to rebuild oil rigs destroyed by Hurricane Katrina read "permanent lifetime settlement in the USA for self and family" (Washington Post). "These workers came to help rebuild the Gulf, and on arrival their nightmare began," said Representative Dennis J. Kucinich (D - OH) this week at a rally in front of the Department of Justice.

According to the facts found in the civil class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of over 500 Indian workers, Signal International, LLC, abused the H-2B visa program in a fraudulent, coercive, and threatening recruitment process that resulted in the grave mistreatment and severe exploitation of the Indian workers.

"When we complained we were told we could be deported," said Shivan Raghavan (Washington Post).

Workers Risk Safety to Bring Traffickers to Justice

In March 2008 the workers escaped from the work camps and reported themselves as survivors of human trafficking to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The workers bravely requested that DOJ investigate the actions that led to their being held in servitude. In addition, they have agreed to cooperate with a federal criminal investigation of Signal International, LLC in order to ensure that their suffering is not repeated.

"We could have disappeared, but we chose to come forward and report the company to the Department of Justice. We sacrificed our ability to work and be with our families for the sake of bringing Signal and its recruiters to justice," the workers said in a collective statement read by Sabulal Vijayan. At the rally, the workers suspended a 29-day hunger strike as they await action from the Department of Justice.

Members of Congress Request DOJ Action

Twenty members of Congress wrote a letter to DOJ requesting a grant of "continued presence" status as trafficking victims under the Trafficking Victims Projection Act (TVPA). This would allow the workers to remain safely in the U.S. without the threat of deportation while the federal government conducts a criminal trafficking investigation.

Congressional members included Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Representatives Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Robert Brady (D-PA), John Conyers (D-MI), Gene Green (D-TX), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mike Honda (D-CA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Doris Matusi, James Moran (D-VA), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), Fortney Stark (D-CA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). (Photo credits: Sara Ibrahim).

AFSC Joins in Call for Workers' Justice

AFSC stands in solidarity with those who suffer the injustice of being stripped of their fundamental rights of liberty, family, livelihood, and fairness.

To Learn More

Visit the New Orlean's Center for Racial Justice website and blog.