In his 2007 State of the Union Address, President Bush called for
legislation creating a “legal and orderly path for foreign workers to
enter our country to work on a temporary basis.” Doing so, the president
said, would mean “they won’t have to try to sneak in.” Such a
program has been central to Bush’s past immigration reform proposals.
Similarly, recent congressional proposals have included provisions that
would bring potentially millions of new “guest” workers to the United
What Bush did not say was that the United States already has a guestworker
program for unskilled laborers — one that is largely hidden from view
because the workers are typically socially and geo- graphically isolated.
Before we expand this system in the name of immigration reform, we should
carefully examine how it operates.
Under the current system, called the H-2 program, employers brought about
121,000 guestworkers into the United States in 2005 — approximately
32,000 for agricultural work and another 89,000 for jobs in forestry,
seafood processing, landscaping, construction and other non-agricultural
These workers, though, are not treated like “guests.” Rather, they are
systematically exploited and abused. Unlike U.S. citizens, guestworkers do
not enjoy the most fundamental protection of a competitive labor market
— the ability to change jobs if they are mistreated. Instead, they are
bound to the employers who “import” them. If guestworkers complain
about abuses, they face deportation, blacklisting or other retaliation.
Federal law and U.S. Department of Labor regulations provide some basic
protections to H-2 guestworkers — but they exist mainly on paper.
Government enforcement of their rights is almost non-existent. Private
attorneys typically won’t take up their cause.
Bound to a single employer and without access to legal
resources, guestworkers are:
routinely cheated out of wages;
forced to mortgage their futures to obtain low-wage,
held virtually captive by employers or labor brokers
who seize their documents;
forced to live in squalid conditions; and,
denied medical benefits for on-the-job injuries.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel
recently put it this way: “This guest- worker program’s the closest
thing I’ve ever seen to slavery.”
Congressman Rangel’s conclusion is not mere hyperbole — and not the
first time such a comparison has been made. Former Department of Labor
official Lee G. Williams described the old “bracero” program — the
guestworker program that brought thousands of Mexican nationals to work in
the United States during and after World War II — as a system of
“legalized slavery.”3 In practice, there is little difference between
the bracero program and the current H-2 guestworker program.
The H-2 guestworker system also can be viewed as a modern-day system of
indentured servitude. But unlike European indentured servants of old,
today’s guestworkers have no prospect of becoming U.S. citizens. When
their work visas expire, they must leave the United States. They are, in
effect, the disposable workers of the U.S. economy.
This report is based on interviews with thousands of guestworkers, a
review of the research on guest- worker programs, scores of legal cases
and the experiences of legal experts from around the country. The abuses
described here are too common to blame on a few “bad apple” employers.
They are the foreseeable outcomes of a system that treats foreign workers
as commodities to be imported as needed without affording them adequate
legal safeguards or the protections of the free market.
The H-2 guestworker program is inherently abusive and should not be
expanded in the name of immigration reform. If the current program is
allowed to continue at all, it should be completely overhauled.
Recommendations for doing so appear at the end of this report.
Part One - A Brief History of Guestworkers in America
Foreign-born workers have been significant contributors to the U.S.
economy for centuries.
From the early 1800s until the outbreak of World War I, millions of
European immigrants — Irish, British, Germans, Italians, Scandinavians,
Russians, Hungarians and others — arrived in the United States, and
their labor helped fuel the country’s economic and geographic expansion.
For most of this period, under the Naturalization Act of 1790, the borders
were open and there were no numerical limits on immigration. The first
major attempt to regulate or stem the flow of these workers came in 1882,
when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to ban the employment of
During the latter half of the 1800s, following the end of the
Mexican-American War in 1848, tens of thousands of migrant workers from
Mexico began arriving. Unlike their European and Asian counterparts, they
were able to move freely across the border to temporary jobs in ranching,
farming, mining and other industries, and then, in many cases, back home
again. The establishment of the U.S. Border Patrol in 1924 made access to
jobs in the United States more difficult for Mexican workers, however, and
for the first time they were seen as “illegal aliens.”4 But there
remained no numerical limits on legal immigration from Mexico until 1965.
World War I brought migration from Europe largely to a halt and created a
greater demand for Mexican labor. Soon afterward, the Great Depression
arrived and Mexican workers were seen as a threat to American jobs. More
than 500,000 people, including some United States citizens, were forcibly
The onset of World War II created another labor shortage, and Mexican
workers were again called upon to fill the void.
In 1942, the U.S. State Department reached a bilateral agreement with
Mexico creating the bracero5 program, which Congress later approved. To
assuage critics, proponents of the program asserted that Mexicans, who had
been deported en masse just a few years earlier, were easily returnable.6
This program was designed initially to bring in a few hundred experienced
laborers to harvest sugar beets in California. Although it started as a
small program, at its peak it drew more than 400,000 workers a year across
the border. A total of about 4.5 million jobs had been filled by Mexican
citizens by the time the bracero program was abolished in 1964.
Interestingly, the program had many significant written legal protections,
providing workers with what historian Cindy Hahamovitch, an expert on
guestworker programs, has called “the most comprehensive farm labor
contract in the history of American agriculture.”7 Under this program:
Employers were required to have individual contracts
with workers under government supervision;
Workers had to be provided housing that would comply
with minimum standards;
Workers had to be paid either a minimum wage or
prevailing wage, whichever was higher;
If employers failed to pay the required wages, the
U.S. government would be required to support them;
Employers had to offer at least 30 days of work; and,
Transportation costs were to be shared by the workers,
the growers and the government.
But the bracero program did not look so rosy in practice.
Mexican workers, who generally did not read English, were often unaware of
contractual guarantees. And there were numerous reports of employers
shortchanging workers — just as in today’s H-2 guestworker program.
The Mexican workers, who were called braceros, also had 10 percent of
their pay withheld, ostensibly to pay for a Social Security-type pension
plan. The money was to be deposited into a Mexican bank on behalf of the
workers. It was never paid, however. Several lawsuits have been filed to
recover what is now estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars owed
to Mexican workers.
In 1956, labor organizer Ernesto Galarza’s book Stranger in Our Fields
was published, drawing attention to the conditions experienced by braceros.
The book begins with this statement from a worker: “In this camp, we
have no names. We are called only by numbers.” The book concluded that
workers were lied to, cheated and “shamefully neglected.” The U.S.
Department of Labor officer in charge of the program, Lee G. Williams,
described the program as a system of “legalized slavery.”
The availability of braceros undermined the ability of U.S. workers to
demand higher wages. During the 1950s, growers brought in braceros when
their U.S. workers either went on strike or merely threatened to do so. In
the late 1950s and early 1960s, Cesar Chavez mounted farm- worker protests
over the program and later said that organizing the United Farm Workers
would have been impossible had the bracero program not been abolished in
1964. The grape strike in which the union was born, in fact, began the
The bracero program is now widely believed to have contributed greatly to
patterns of unauthorized immigration from Mexico to the United States.
After the bracero program was dismantled in 1964, foreign workers could
still be imported for agricultural work under the H-2 sections of the
Immigration and Nationality Act. The H-2 program had been created in 1943
when the Florida sugar cane industry obtained permission to hire Caribbean
workers to cut sugar cane on temporary visas. The appalling conditions
experienced by sugar cane cutters have been well-documented.9 In one
well-publicized incident, on November 21, 1986, Caribbean H-2 sugar cane
cutters stopped work on a large sugar plantation in south Florida,
objecting to the work conditions. Workers reported that the company had
tried to pay a rate lower than what was promised in the work contract, and
more than 300 workers refused to go to work as a result. The company
called in the police, who used guns and dogs to force workers onto buses,
on which they were removed from the camp and deported. This incident
became known as the “dog war.”10 It has come to symbolize for many
people the potential for extreme abuse in a guestworker program that
permits employers to control the worker’s right to remain in the United
The H-2 program was revised in 1986 as part of the Immigration Reform and
Control Act, which divided it into the H-2A agricultural program and the
H-2B non-agricultural program. There are no annual numerical limits on
H-2A visas. The annual limit on H-2B visas was 66,000 until 2005, when it
was increased substantially by exempting returning workers from those
In 2005, the last year for which data are available, the United States
issued about 89,000 H-2B visas11 and about 32,000 H-2A visas. The
countries sending the most workers to the United States under these
programs were Mexico, Jamaica and Guatemala; about three-fourths are
As will be shown in this report, this current guestworker system is
plagued by some of the same problems as the discredited bracero program.
Part Two - How Guestworker Programs Operate
The United States currently has two guestworker programs under which
employers can import unskilled labor for temporary or seasonal work
lasting less than a year: the H-2A program for agricultural work and the
H-2B program for non-agricultural work.
Although the H-2A and H-2B programs offer different terms and benefits,
they are similar in one significant way: Both programs permit the
guestworker to work only for the employer who petitioned the Department of
Labor (DOL) for his or her services. If the work situation is abusive or
not what was promised, the worker has little or no recourse other than to
go home. That puts the worker at a distinct disadvantage in terms of
future opportunities in the United States, because his ability to return
during any subsequent season depends entirely on an employer’s
willingness to submit a request to the U.S. government. In practical
terms, it means that an employee is much less likely to complain about
workplace safety or wage issues.
Under federal law, employers must obtain prior approval from the DOL to
bring in guestworkers. To do that, employers must certify that:
there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able,
willing, qualified and available to perform work at the place and time
the wages and working conditions of workers in the
United States similarly employed will not be “adversely affected”
by the importation of guestworkers.
The H-2 visas used by guestworkers are for individuals
only and generally do not permit them to bring their families to the
United States. This means that guestworkers are separated from their
families, including their minor children, for periods often lasting nearly
The H-2A Program
The H-2A program provides significant legal protections for foreign
farmworkers. Many of these safe- guards are similar to those that existed
under the widely discredited bracero program, which operated from 1942
until it was discontinued amid human rights abuses in 1964. Unfortunately,
far too many of the protections — as in the bracero program — exist
only on paper.
Federal law and DOL regulations contain several provisions that are meant
to protect H-2A workers from exploitation as well as to ensure that U.S.
workers are shielded from the potential adverse impacts, such as the
downward pressure on wages, associated with the hiring of temporary
H-2A workers must be paid wages that are the highest of: (a) the local
labor market’s “prevailing wage” for a particular crop, as
determined by the DOL and state agencies; (b) the state or federal minimum
wage; or (c) the “adverse effect wage rate.”
H-2A workers also are legally entitled to:
Receive at least three-fourths of the total hours
promised in the contract, which states the period of employment
promised. (This is called the “three-quarters guarantee.”)
Receive free housing in good condition for the period
of the contract.
Receive workers’ compensation benefits for medical
costs and payment for lost time from work and for any permanent
Be reimbursed for the cost of travel from the
worker’s home to the job as soon as the worker finishes 50 percent
of the contract period. The expenses include the cost of an airline or
bus ticket and food during the trip. If the guestworker stays on the
job until the end of the contract the employer must pay transportation
Be protected by the same health and safety regulations
as other workers.
Be eligible for federally funded legal services for
matters related to their employment as H-2A workers.
To protect U.S. workers in competition with H-2A workers,
employers must abide by what is known as the “fifty percent rule.”
This rule specifies that an H-2A employer must hire any qualified U.S.
worker who applies for a job prior to the beginning of the second half of
the season for which foreign workers are hired.
The H-2B Program
The fundamental legal protections afforded to H-2A workers do not apply to
guestworkers under the H-2B program.
Though the H-2B program was created two decades ago by the Immigration
Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, the DOL has never promulgated
regulations enacting substantive labor protections for these workers.17
IRCA, in fact, does not explicitly require such regulatory safeguards,
providing only the guidance that the importation of H-2B workers must not
adversely affect U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions.
And, unlike the H-2A program, the procedures governing certification for
an H-2B visa were established not by regulation but rather by internal DOL
memoranda (General Administrative Letter 1-95) and therefore were not
subject to the public comment and review process required when new federal
regulations are adopted. An employer need only state the nature, wage and
working conditions of the job and assure the DOL that the wage and other
terms meet prevailing conditions in the industry.18 Because the H-2B wage
requirement is set forth by administrative directive and not by
regulation, the DOL takes the position that it lacks legal authority to
enforce the H-2B prevailing wage.
While the employer is obligated to offer full-time employment that pays at
least the prevailing wage rate, none of the other substantive regulatory
protections of the H-2A program apply to H-2B workers. There is no free
housing. There is no access to legal services. There is no “three-
quarters guarantee.” And the H-2B regulations do not require an employer
to pay the workers’ transportation to the United States.
Part Three - Recruitment: Exploitation Begins at Home
The exploitation of H-2A and H-2B guestworkers commences long before they
arrive in the United States. It begins, in fact, with the initial
recruitment in their home country — a process that often leaves them in
a precarious economic state and therefore extremely vulnerable to abuse by
unscrupulous employers in this country.
U.S. employers almost universally rely on private agencies to find and
recruit guestworkers in their home countries, mostly in Mexico and Central
These labor recruiters usually charge fees to the worker — sometimes
thousands of dollars — to cover travel, visas and other costs, including
profit for the recruiters. The workers, most of whom live in poverty,
frequently must obtain high-interest loans to come up with the money to
pay the fees. In addition, recruiters sometimes require them to leave
collateral, such as the deed to their house or car, to ensure that they
fulfill the terms of their individual labor contract.
The entirely unregulated recruiting business can be quite lucrative. With
more than 121,000 such workers recruited in 2005 alone, tens of millions
of dollars in recruiting fees are at stake. This financial bonanza
provides a powerful incentive for recruiters and agencies to import as
many workers as possible — with little or no regard to the impact on
individual workers and their families.
Workers Start Off Deeply in Debt
Typically, guestworkers arriving in the United States face a fee-related
debt ranging from $500 to well over $10,000. Many pay exorbitant interest
rates on that debt. When that’s the case, they have virtually no
possibility of repaying the debt by performing the work offered by the
employer during the term of the contract.
Overwhelming debt is a chronic problem for guestworkers. Although U.S.
laws do provide some obligation for employers to reimburse workers for
their travel and visa costs,19 in practice it is rare that guestworkers
are fully reimbursed. Most struggle to repay their debt, while interest
These obstacles are compounded when employers fail to
offer as many hours of work as promised — a common occurrence.
Guatemalan guestworkers represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center
paid an average of $2,000 in travel, visa and hiring fees to obtain
forestry jobs in the United States. Guatemalans are recruited largely from
Huehuetenango, an extremely poor region where many indigenous people live.
Often illiterate, many speak Spanish as their second language, with
varying degrees of proficiency. They generally work as subsistence farmers
and have virtually no opportunity to earn wages in rural Guatemala. Thus,
their only realistic option for raising the funds needed to secure H-2B
jobs in the United States is to visit a loan shark, who will likely charge
exorbitant interest rates. Many of these workers report having been
charged 20 percent interest each month. Given that the pine tree planting
season is three months long and workers often earn less than $1,000 per
month, they have little hope of repaying the debt doing the work for which
they were hired.
The fees paid by these Guatemalan workers amount to far more than the
actual cost of travel and visas. Roundtrip airline tickets can be bought
for $500 to $600. A visa typically costs $100. Assorted other fees may add
The remainder is often pocketed by the recruiter or the agency for which
he works. In addition, the majority of Guatemalan forestry workers
interviewed by the Southern Poverty Law Center were required to leave some
form of collateral, generally a property deed, with an agent in Guatemala
to ensure that the worker will “comply” with the terms of his
contract. If a worker violates the contract — as determined by the
recruiter — that worker will be fined. Some workers have been required
to pay as much as $1,000 to secure the return of their deed. This tactic
is enormously effective at suppressing complaints about pay, working
conditions or housing. U.S.-based companies deny knowledge of the abuse,
but there is little doubt that they derive substantial benefit from their
agents’ actions. It is almost inconceivable that a worker would complain
in any substantial way while a company agent holds the deed to the home
where his wife and children reside.
The story told by Alvaro Hernandez-Lopez is typical of guestworkers
recruited from Guatemala. In 2001, at age 45, he came to the United States
to work for Express Forestry Inc. in the Southeast. He continued coming
for two more planting seasons. “What I earned planting trees in the
States was hardly enough to pay my debt,” he said. “It was really hard
for us to fight to get to the States legally and then not earn any money.
We were told we had to leave our deeds to get the job. On a blank paper we
had to sign our names and hand over our deeds. They said that if we
didn’t sign this paper they wouldn’t bring us to the States to
Forestry worker Nelson Ramirez, also from Guatemala, describes a similar
experience when he signed up to work for Eller and Sons Trees Inc. in
2001. A labor recruiter required that his wife sign a paper agreeing to be
responsible if he were to break his contract. “I didn’t understand
exactly what this threat meant but knew that my wife would have to sign if
I was going to get the visa,” Ramirez said. “The work was very hard,
but I worried about leaving because my wife signed this form to get me the
job and I worried about her.”
These tactics are not limited to any particular industry or country.
Recruits in some parts of the world are required to pay even greater sums
of money to obtain guestworker visas. Some Thai and Indonesian workers
imported to North Carolina on H-2A visas, for example, each paid $5,000 to
$10,000 or more for the right to be employed in short-term agricultural
jobs at less than $10 per hour. In practice, they were not paid even that.
|The Recruiting Bonanza
The recruitment of guestworkers is a lucrative business for
the companies that help U.S. businesses obtain cheap foreign
A deposition in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law
Center provides a glimpse into this world, in which workers
pay thousands of dollars to recruiters in their countries
for the right to work in low-wage jobs in the United States.
The lawsuit, filed in 2006, contends that Decatur Hotels and
its president, F. Patrick Quinn III, violated the Fair Labor
Standards Act when the company failed to reimburse
guestworkers for the exorbitant fees paid to aggressive
labor recruiters working as agents of the hotel chain.
When Decatur Hotels, which owns 15 luxury hotels in New
Orleans, decided to import up to 290 guestworkers to fill
hotel jobs vacated by Hurricane Katrina evacuees, the
company hired a Baton Rouge-based company called Accent
Personnel Services Inc. Accent advertises on its website
that it helps businesses obtain government approval to
employ guestworkers and also recruits them.
Virginia Pickering, president and owner of the company,
testified in a deposition that Accent earned $1,200 for each
person recruited to work for Decatur Hotels — $300 each
from Decatur Hotels and another $900 each from recruiters
working in Peru, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. That
means that if Decatur imported the full 290 workers for
which it was certified by the Department of Labor, Accent
would have earned nearly $350,000. Accent did not have to
pay for travel or visa costs out of those fees.
Each of the workers paid between $3,500 and $5,000 to cover
recruiting fees, travel and visas. Like many other guest-
workers, they plunged their families into debt to raise this
money. For most workers, it was more than a year’s salary.
The guestworkers soon found out they could not earn enough
to make ends meet — much less pay back their debts. The
recruiters had promised a minimum of 40 hours of work per
week and plenty of overtime. Instead, they found themselves
working about 25 hours a week, sometimes far less.
Even though desperate for wages, these workers are
prohibited by law from seeking alternative employment. “It
is modern-day slavery,” said Daniel Castellanos Contrera
Another worker, who did not want to be identified because of
the possibility of being blacklisted, said, “People came
with debts and children to support — and the illusion that
this would help their future. In the end, we have only
bigger problems and deeper debt.”
Workers pay up to $5,000 for post-Katrina hotel jobs
Following Hurricane Katrina, a major hotel company in New Orleans, Decatur
Hotels LLC, decided to arrange for H-2B guestworkers to fill hotel jobs
that had been vacated by employees who apparently were driven from the
city by the massive destruction. In its request to the Department of Labor
for permission to hire up to 290 guestworkers, the company claimed to
“have offered work to hurricane evacuees” but “no one applied.”
Agents for the company, however, found plenty of willing workers in Peru,
Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. Each recruit paid between $3,500 and
$5,000 to come to the United States for hotel jobs — maintenance,
housekeeping, guest services, etc. — that were scheduled to last just
nine months. According to the terms of the written contract, each would
have to work full- time for three to four months just to recoup the
recruiting fees, not counting any interest on loans they may have taken
out. When they arrived, they found they were not even able to work
full-time with the hotels, making their situations even more desperate.
“Every one of us has to sell things in order to have the money to come
here,” said Francisco Sotelo Aparicio, who came from Peru to work for
Decatur Hotels. “I sold some of my land, my belongings, and we leave our
families to try to come out ahead. … We want to keep working legally,
but it is very hard to do so when we make such little money and have so
much debt. We become desperate.”
In many cases, the only way for guestworkers to make enough money to repay
their debt is to seek additional employment — but that is illegal. The
guestworker system permits them to work only for the employer who arranged
with the Department of Labor to import them. Many of the workers
interviewed by the Southern Poverty Law Center know full well that they
will be unable repay their recruiting debt because their pay is so low and
the jobs are seasonal or temporary.
This raises the question: Why do workers choose to come to the United
States under these terms?
The simple fact is that workers from Mexico, Guatemala and many other
countries often have very few economic opportunities. In recent years,
rural Mexicans have had an increasingly difficult time making a living at
subsistence farming, and in some regions there are virtually no wage-
paying jobs. Where jobs exist, the pay is extremely low; unskilled
laborers can earn 10 times as much, or more, in the United States as they
can at home. So even though they risk being cheated, many workers are
willing to take that chance. Most perceive the guestworker program as
their best chance to get to the United States and provide a better life
for their families. These desperate workers are easily deceived by
In a few cases, guestworkers have told the Southern Poverty Law Center,
employers have simply provided a backdoor for migrant workers to get to
the United States. Once here, they overstay their visas, becoming
unauthorized workers, or “jump” contract by going to work elsewhere.
Even though expensive, the cost to the worker commonly is less than what
it would cost to enter the United States illegally. Certainly it is less
dangerous to enter with an H-2 visa than to attempt to cross the border
Some employers seek long visa periods, claiming to have eight or 10 months
of work, for example, when they actually have only two to three months of
work to offer. The period after which the employer has no work to offer
but when the visa is still valid is referred to by many workers as the tiempo
libre or free period. ”Numerous workers have told the Southern
Poverty Law Center that their employers explicitly advised them that they
were free to seek work elsewhere during this period. While that clearly
violates immigration law, workers often believe themselves to be in legal
status, because their visa appears valid and because they were given
permission by their employer. For some employers, this is the only way
they are able to continue to attract a workforce year after year, since
the wages are so low and the costs of recruitment so high.
One employer sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center had extensive notes
showing the deposits left by workers in order to secure their jobs. Next
to one worker’s name was written: “he only wants the visa to travel to
Florida. He must leave a 5000 deposit.” Clearly, these are visas
available for sale.
As long as the guestworker system relies on a series of unregulated
foreign recruiters, it is subject to this sort of wanton selling of visas.
A prohibition on charging fees to workers for recruitment or
transportation would help negate the financial incentive for the
recruiting industry in Mexico and elsewhere to send more workers than are
needed. Presumably, if the workers could not be charged, then employers
would pay for recruiting, and they would recruit only the number of
Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine enforcing such a rule. For example,
until recently, one U.S. embassy in Latin America routinely asked
prospective H-2 workers how much they had paid in recruitment fees,
apparently out of concern that a high level of indebtedness would cause
workers to overstay their visas in order to repay the debt. Workers were
told by their recruiters what the “correct” — that is, false —
answer should be, and workers dutifully understated the fees that they
A fundamental problem with the guestworker system is the requirement that
a worker may travel to the United States on an H-2 visa only after he has
a job offer from a U.S. employer. Placing this power in the hands of
employer representatives operating in other countries is a recipe for
worker abuse. (Continued below)
In December 2000, Irla’s husband left his small town in
Guatemala for the first time to work in the United States.
With an H-2B visa in hand and a job planting pines in the
forests of the South, he hoped to earn enough money to make
a better life for his family.
He incurred debt to pay about $1,000 in fees to a recruiter
and was told to leave the deed to his house with a lawyer in
town to guarantee his return when the seven-month visa
He didn’t earn much money planting pines. But after three
months, the planting season ended and he found other jobs.
He worked in a factory, harvested grapes and worked in
tomato and tobacco fields.
Only at this point was he able to send more money home. To
some guestworkers, this is known as the “visa libre”
period, and recruiters sometimes promise such opportunities
even though this type of arrangement violates the rules of
the guestworker system.
“We all knew the men would not earn much in the actual
planting season,” Irla said. “My husband and the others
would work their three months with the planting company and
then would find other work. My husband could not afford to
send money to us or to pay his debt until he had a different
Irla’s husband continued to go to the United States every
season for the following four years. The deed to his home
stayed in the hands of the lawyer in Guatemala. Many other
women in Irla’s community were in the same situation. They
stayed at home to care for the children, waiting patiently
for money that rarely arrived.
“We do this for our kids,” Irla said. “We have to work
so they can eat, and it is not the same when the husband is
After completing his fifth three-month planting season in
the United States. Irla’s husband again found other work.
On the way to his job, he was killed in a car accident. At
32, he left five children behind. The last time Irla saw him
was in November 2004.
Even after five years, he still owed about $700.
“He should have earned a lot of money with all that time
in the United States,” Irla said. “There were no
earnings to show. Now I am working without him for our five
kids. I think it will take me about three years to pay this
debt. I am the only one working for the food.”
The lawyer will not give Irla back the deed to their house
until she repays the debt. “If I don’t pay this debt
they say they will take my house.”
Irla now wishes he had remained in Guatemala picking coffee.
“It would have been better if he had not gone and we could
have just eaten greens and tortillas. I would rather have
him here now.”
Part Four - Holding the “Deportation Card”
The most fundamental problem with guestworker pro- grams, both
historically and currently, is that the employer — not the worker —
decides whether a worker can come to the United States and whether he can
Because of this arrangement, the balance of power between employer and
worker is skewed so disproportionately in favor of the employer that, for
all practical purposes, the worker’s rights are nullified. At any
moment, the employer can fire the worker, call the government and declare
the worker to be “illegal.”
Otto Rafael Boton-Gonzalez, an H-2B forestry worker from Guatemala, has
seen first-hand how this works. “When the supervisor would see that a
person was ready to leave the job because the pay was so bad, he would
take our papers from us. He would rip up our visa and say, ‘You don’t
want to work? Get out of here then. You don’t want to work? Right now I
will call immigration to take your papers and deport you.’”
Many abuses, perhaps most abuses of guestworkers, flow from the fact that
the employer literally holds the deportation card. One of the most chronic
abuses reported by guestworkers concerns the seizure of identity documents
— in particular passports and Social Security cards.21 In many
instances, workers are told that the documents are being taken in order to
ensure that they do not leave in the middle of the contract.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has received dozens of reports of this
practice and has, in the course of its legal representation of workers,
confirmed that it is routine. While some employers state that they hold
the documents for the purpose of “safekeeping,” many have been quite
candid in explaining that there is a great risk that workers will flee if
the documents are not held. One employer sued by the Southern Poverty Law
Center stated in her deposition that the company kept workers’ Social
Security cards in the office because “if they have their Social Security
card, they’ll leave.”
Juan, a forestry worker, said, “The boss took our passports and kept
them. He took them as soon as we arrived from Mexico. We would ask for
them and he would always say no. When we got paid, we would want to go
cash our pay checks. The boss would say, ‘Go talk to the driver and
he’ll change them for you.’ They would not give us our passports to
cash our pay checks. They would say that the higher company office ordered
them to do this. My passport gives me permission to be here so no one will
bother me because I am legal. I cannot prove I am legal if I do not have
There is no realistic mechanism for workers to recover their identity
documents. Numerous employers have refused to return these documents even
when the worker simply wanted to return to his home country. The Southern
Poverty Law Center also has encountered numerous incidents where employers
destroyed passports or visas in order to convert workers into undocumented
status. When this happens, there is little likelihood of a worker
obtaining assistance from local law enforcement officials. In many
jurisdictions, lawyers representing workers advise them to avoid calling
police because they are more likely to take action against complaining
workers than against the employer.
Living in Fear
In other instances, employers have quite explicitly used the threat of
calling the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency as a means of
asserting control over the workers. For example, in one case where workers
refused to work until they received their pay after not having been paid
in several weeks, the employer responded by threatening to call
immigration and declare that the workers had “abandoned” their work
and were thus “illegal” workers. Such threats are common and are made
possible by a system under which visas are issued solely for employment
with the petitioning employer.
Even when employers do not overtly threaten deportation, workers live in
constant fear that any bad act or complaint on their part will result in
their being sent home or not being rehired. Fear of retaliation is a
deeply rooted problem in guestworker programs. In 1964, the
Mexican-American labor organizer and writer Ernesto Galarza found that
despite the prevalence of workers’ rights violations, only one in every
4,300 braceros complained.
In examining the H-2A program in North Carolina, Human Rights Watch found
“widespread fear and evidence of blacklisting against workers who speak
up about conditions, who seek assistance from Legal Services attorneys, or
who become active in [the union]”24 Human Rights Watch also found
evidence of a “campaign of intimidation” against workers to discourage
any exercise of freedom of association by the workers. The U.S. Government
Account- ability Office (formerly the General Accounting Office) similarly
reported in 1997 that H-2A workers “are unlikely to complain about
worker protection violations, such as the three-quarters guarantee,
fearing they will lose their jobs or will not be accepted by the employer
or association for future employment.”
The North Carolina Growers Association blacklist has been widely
publicized. The 1997 blacklist, called the “1997 NCGA Ineligible for
Rehire Report” consisted of more than 1,000 names of undesirable former
guestworkers. Fear of retaliation among workers is a constant concern —
and one that is warranted. There is no question that many H-2 employers
take full advantage of the power they hold over guestworkers.
Part Five - Wage and Hour Abuses
Despite federal law requiring the payment of the Adverse Effect Wage Rate
to H-2A workers and the prevailing wage rate to H-2B workers, in practice
many guestworkers earn substantially less than even the federal minimum
wage of $5.15 per hour.
Legal Services attorneys have represented H-2A workers in hundreds of
lawsuits against their employers. And more than 20 lawsuits have been
filed on behalf of H-2B workers across the nation in recent years, many by
the Southern Poverty Law Center. Given that only a handful of lawyers
provide free legal services to these low-wage workers, these numbers
reflect a grave problem: Employers using the services of guestworkers in
many industries routinely violate basic labor laws.
To understand the wage and hour issues faced by workers, it is useful to
examine two industries — forestry and seafood processing — that have
become reliant on guestworkers for the majority of their labor. It is no
coincidence that in both industries wage and hour violations are the norm,
rather than the exception.
Although an H-2B contract between employer and worker specifies a minimum
hourly wage — the prevailing wage, which has run in recent years from
approximately $6 an hour to more than $10 per hour, depending on the year
and the state — tree planters are more often paid by the number of
seedlings they plant. They are told that they are expected to plant at
least two bags of 1,000 seedlings each in an eight-hour day, a task that
is often impossible. Payment ranges from $15 to $30 per bag.
An experienced hand-planting crew can average 1,500 well-planted seedlings
per person per day.
On rough sites, a worker might average just 600 trees per day; in open
fields, a worker might plant up to 2,000 in a day.27 At the average rate
of 1,500 trees, a worker could earn between $22.50 and $45 a day, far less
than the legally required wage. By law, the employer is obligated to make
up the difference between the bag rate and the prevailing wage rate. This
is rarely done.
Most workers report working between eight and 12 hours a day. But they
rarely, if ever, earn overtime pay, despite the fact that they often work
six full days a week and average well over 40 hours. In addition, they are
routinely required to purchase their own work-related tools and incur
other expenses and deductions, unlawfully cutting into their pay.
Virtually every forestry company that the Southern Poverty Law Center has
encountered provides workers with pay stubs showing that they have worked
substantially fewer hours than they actually worked. Relying on interviews
with more than 1,000 pine tree workers, the Center has concluded that this
industry systematically underpays its workers.
Escolastico De Leon-Granados, an H-2B worker from Guatemala, said he was
consistently under- paid while working for Eller and Sons Trees Inc. “We
worked up to 12 or 13 hours and we could only plant 1,300 or 1,500
seedlings,” he said. “Our pay would come out to approximately $25 for
a 12-hour workday. At the end of the season, I had only saved $500 to send
home to my family.”
Because of the lack of enforcement by government officials and the
vulnerability of guestworkers, this exploitation has continued largely
unfettered for many years.
In an attempt to reform this widespread wage abuse, the Southern Poverty
Law Center has filed four class action lawsuits against large forestry
contractors since 2004. To date, two of those law- suits have been
settled, resulting in contractors agreeing to pay back wages to class
members and change the way they do business.28 Two other cases are
pending.29 Substantially similar allegations have been made in lawsuits
filed by other advocates, several of which were settled with payment or
entry of judgment.30
In the seafood industry, workers in Virginia and North Carolina have filed
at least 12 lawsuits against 10 companies since 1998. Most of the lawsuits
contain virtually identical allegations: that workers were paid on a piece
rate; that they did not earn the minimum wage; that there were unlawful
deductions for tools, travel and uninhabitable housing taken from their
pay; and that they were not paid overtime wages for hours worked over 40
in a week.
Virtually all of these cases were settled before trial.
While a few were settled on confidential terms, a number of the
settlements required the payment of substantial sums of money to the
In one case, Zamora v. Shores and Ruark Seafood, Inc., workers sued an
employer that had been twice cited by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
for failing to pay minimum wage and over- time wages to its workers. Each
time the company was fined by the DOL it continued this unlawful practice.
Even so, the DOL continued to grant the company’s requests to import
H-2B workers to process seafood. In 1999, the company paid more than
$103,000, excluding attorneys’ fees and costs, to settle a lawsuit filed
by 51 workers. A second suit ended in the settlement of claims by an
additional 10 workers. These lawsuits and DOL enforcement actions, while
limited in scope, illustrate that wage and hour abuses of guestworkers are
not a question of a few “bad apple” employers. Rather, when an
industry comes to largely rely upon extraordinarily vulnerable
guestworkers for the bulk of its labor, there is a race to the bottom in
terms of wages to be paid. This creates problems for the workers but also
for employers who want to comply with the law, because they are left at a
competitive disadvantage relative to employers who cheat their workers.
Simón was recruited in Mexico to work in the sweet
pepper and jalapeño fields in Georgia. He worked long hours
— up to 70 hours a week. He kept a notebook in which he
wrote down the time of day when he started and stopped
working so that he could compare it with his pay stub at the
end of the week.
He found that the pay stubs did not include all of the
hours he worked. Sometimes, as many as 30 hours per week
“I worried about this,” he said. “I had left my
town in Mexico to come work here because I needed the money
to support my family, and they were not paying us for our
work. They were not honoring the contract.”
One night a Legal Services employee visited the camp
where Simón and the otherH-2A workers lived, and he learned
that he had a right to earn the federal minimum wage for
every hour worked. But when he spoke to his supervisor about
the missing hours, he was told he could lose his job if he
talked to Legal Services again.
He continued talking to Legal Services, though in another
town. When Simón tried to come to the United States the
following year, he discovered he had been blacklisted.
“When I talked with the contractor in Mexico, he said
that I could not go back to work for the company. He told me
it was because I had talked with Legal Services. I had other
co-workers who had talked with Legal Services who had the
same problem and were not allowed on the list to return to
Part Six - Contract Violations
A chronic problem faced by guestworkers is that employers recruit too many
of them, a situation that leads to workers not being able to earn as much
as they were promised.
Because the workers themselves, not the employers, absorb most of the
costs associated with recruitment, employers often grossly exaggerate
their labor needs when seeking Department of Labor (DOL) approval to
import workers. To be sure, sometimes employers genuinely do not know
months ahead of time exactly how many workers they will need, and they may
worry that some workers will leave.
Under the H-2 program, employers are obligated to offer full-time work
when they apply to import foreign workers; anything less will not be
approved by the DOL. There is virtually no enforcement of this requirement
in practice, however.
DOL regulations require that H-2A workers be guaranteed 75 percent of the
hours promised in the contract — a provision called the
“three-quarters guarantee.” That does not mean employers always
comply. Many of the terms in a worker’s job offer are simply not
honored. The DOL’s inspector general found in 2004 that the North
Carolina Growers Association overstated its need for workers and
overstated the period of employment, factors that likely led workers to
abandon their contracts early and not receive the return transportation to
which they were law- fully entitled.
In the H-2B program, there is no regulation of the number of hours that
must be guaranteed to workers. The DOL, in fact, asserts that it has no
authority to enforce the provisions of an H-2B contract under most
circumstances. Thus, if a worker arrives in the United States on an H-2B
visa and is offered no work for weeks on end (and this has occurred many
times) that worker has virtually no recourse. He may not lawfully seek
employment elsewhere. He likely has substantial debts on which he must
continue to make payments. As an H-2B worker, he more than likely is
obligated to pay for housing; certainly, he must pay for food.
The ramifications to the worker of being deprived of work for even short
periods are enormous under these circumstances. Fundamental to the problem
is that the worker is not free to shop his labor to any other employer.
It is extremely common for seafood processing employers to seek more
laborers than they can use. They routinely apply for workers in their
plants for periods longer than needed for their seasons, as they are
unsure exactly when their season will begin or end. As a result, many
guest- workers have no work for three or four weeks at the beginning or
end of their visa term. For low-wage workers desperately in debt, this can
Other contract violations are routine. One of the most common is that of
misclassification. This occurs most often when workers who should be
characterized as H-2A workers (because, for example, they are picking
produce in the field) are instead brought in as H-2B workers (and labeled
as packing shed workers, for example). This results in workers being paid
substantially less than the wage rate they should lawfully be paid. It
also results in the workers being denied the substantially better legal
protections afforded to H-2A workers, such as free housing and eligibility
for federally funded legal services.
Another common form of misclassification involves employers who simply
misstate the kind of work H-2B employees will be performing, so that the
prevailing wage rate is set for one kind of work, such as landscaping,
when the workers actually will be doing work that warrants a higher
prevailing wage rate, such as highway maintenance. Again, there is
virtually no recourse for a worker in this circumstance, as the DOL denies
that it has any enforcement authority to address these kinds of abuses and
H-2B workers are ineligible for federally funded legal services. As a
practical matter, the only thing that workers can do, then, is to receive
far less than they are legally entitled to under the law.
Lawyers for guestworkers in North Carolina report numerous accounts of
H-2A workers who were deliberately sent by their employers to work on
other operations owned by employers or their relatives, operations that
would have to pay U.S. workers substantially more than the Adverse Effect
Wage Rate. In one case, several H-2A Christmas tree workers were assigned
by their employer to work in his home construction business, where they
performed skilled carpentry work at far less than the prevailing wage.34
This is just one more way that employers can exploit the guestworker
system for profit — and the vast majority of workers can do nothing
about it. (Continued below)
|Wages Set Too Low
Federal regulations require employers who hire H-2A workers
to pay at least the highest of the state or federal minimum
wage, the local “prevailing wage” for the particular
job, or an “adverse effect wage rate (AEWR).”
The AEWR was created under the bracero program as a
necessary protection against wage depression. The Department of Labor (DOL) issues an AEWR for each state based on
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.
The AEWR has often been criticized by farmworker advocates
as being too low. Farmworker Justice explains why:
“First, the USDA survey that DOL uses for the AEWR
measures the average wage rates. Employers that have a hard
time finding U.S. workers should compete against other
employers by offering more than the average wage to attract
and retain workers. Second, the AEWR is based on the
previous year’s wage rates and does not reflect inflation.
Third, the USDA surveys of the average wage include the 55%
or more of farmworkers who are undocumented, so the wages
are depressed compared to what they would be if only U.S.
citizens and authorized immigrants had the job. In addition,
the AEWR’s, by them- selves, also do not prevent employers
from imposing very high productivity standards that
desperate foreign workers will accept but that would cause
U.S. workers to insist on higher wages.”
As a practical matter, the substantive wage rates set forth
in the H-2 visa programs are illusory and unenforceable.
H-2B workers often face an even worse situation with regard
to wages than H-2A workers. Under the law, they are entitled
only to the “prevailing wage” for their work; there is
no adverse effect wage rate for those workers. Of course,
even though these workers are entitled to payment of
prevailing wages and to employment in conformity with
required minimum terms and conditions as provided for in the
employer’s labor certifications, federal law provides no
real remedy when these rights have been violated.
In the forestry industry, prevailing wages in recent years
have actually fallen, not only adjusted for inflation but in
real terms. For example, in 2005 the prevailing wage rate
for tree planters in all counties of Alabama was $9.20 per
hour; in 2006, the wage rate was only $7.29 in Dale County,
Alabama; other counties had similar decreases. There are two
explanations for this trend. First, the DOL has recently
modified its methodology for determining the prevailing wage
in a way that is extremely favorable for employers.
Second, when an industry relies on guestworkers for the bulk
of its workforce, wages tend to fall. Guestworkers are
absolutely unable to bargain for better wages and working
conditions. Over time, wages fall and the jobs become
increasingly undesirable to U.S. workers, creating even more
of a demand for guestworkers.
Part Seven - Injuries without Effective Recourse
Guestworkers toil in some of the most dangerous occupations in the United
States.35 Fatality rates for the agriculture and forestry industries, both
of which employ large numbers of guestworkers, are more than 10 times the
national average.36 Unfortunately, when H-2 workers suffer injuries on the
job, all too often they are denied access to appropriate medical care and
benefits. Those who are seriously injured face enormous, often
insurmountable obstacles to obtaining workers’ compensation benefits.
In most instances, guestworkers are entitled to workers’ compensation
benefits — on paper, at least.
The reality is that many injured guestworkers are not able to obtain the
benefits to which they are entitled under this system. Because workers’
compensation is a state-by-state scheme, with varying rules, some states
are more accessible to transnational workers than others. And workers
often lack the knowledge needed to negotiate the complex system in order
to have benefits continue when they leave the United States.
There simply are no clear rules in the H-2 regulations guaranteeing that
workers’ compensation benefits will continue after an injured worker
returns to his home country. Indeed, the insurance carrier of one large
company employing substantial numbers of guestworkers has a policy of
affirmatively cutting off workers when they leave the United States, which
they inevitably must do. This inhibits the workers’ ability to gain
access to benefits and provides a financial incentive for employers to
rely on guestworkers.
Some states (for example, New Jersey) mandate that
examining physicians be located in the state where an injury occurred.
This means that injured workers have difficulty obtaining benefits while
in other states and in their home countries. Some states require workers
to appear in the state for hearings. And most states do not have clear
rules permitting workers to participate by telephone in depositions and
hearings before the workers’ compensation body. These rules put
guestworkers at an enormous disadvantage in obtaining benefits to which
they are entitled. As a practical matter, workers also have an extremely
difficult time finding a lawyer willing to accept a case for a guestworker
who will be required to return to his or her home country. In 2003, a
group of civil rights and immigrant rights groups filed an amicus brief
with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights relating to the treatment of
immigrants in the United States. Among their many complaints: the
discrimination against foreign-born workers in the state-by-state
workers’ compensation scheme. That brief states:
“Workers’ compensation laws in many states bar the non-resident
family members of workers killed on the job from receiving full
benefits. In those states, whenever the family member is living outside
the United States and is not a United States citizen, the family members
do not receive the full death benefits award. There are several ways in
which states limit compensation to nonresident alien beneficiaries. Some
states limit compensation compared to the benefits a lawful resident
would have received, generally 50% (Arkansas, Delaware, Florida,
Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina). Some states
restrict the types of non-resident dependents who are eligible to
receive benefits as beneficiaries (Arkansas, Delaware, Florida,
Kentucky, Pennsylvania). Other states limit coverage based on: The
length of time a migrant has been a citizen (Washington), or the cost of
living in the alien resident beneficiary’s home country (Oregon).
Alabama denies benefits to all foreign beneficiaries.”38 (internal
Such policies obviously disproportionately impact the families of
guestworkers killed on the job.
Forestry Injuries ComMon
The forestry industry illustrates the problems many guestworkers face in
gaining access to benefits. Getting injured on the job — either in the
forest or in the van traveling to and from the forest — is a common
occurrence for tree planters. They rarely receive any compensation for
In their 2005 investigative series about guestworkers in the forestry
industry, journalists from the Sacramento Bee wrote, “Guest forest
workers are routinely subjected to conditions not tolerated elsewhere in
the United States…. They are gashed by chain saws, bruised by tumbling
logs and rocks, verbally abused and forced to live in squalor.”
Leonel Hernandez-Lopez of Guatemala was working as a tree planter in
2004 when he cut his right knee badly on the job. “I was very sick for
30 days, with six stitches on my wound,” he said. “I never received
any help from the company, even having to pay for my own medicine from my
own pocket. All the while I had to keep paying rent on the hotel room
where I was staying, even though I made no money. … The only thing I
received from the company was belittling, humiliation, mistreatment and
Mexican forestry worker Jose Luis Macias was spraying herbicides in 2005
and took a bad fall after stepping on a branch that snapped. “I fell
backwards down about five meters and my leg ended up bent underneath
me,” he said. “The supervisor told me, ‘Get up, get up,’ so that I
would continue working. When he saw I did not want to get up, he said,
‘Don’t be a stupid wimp,’ so I had to keep spraying. My leg was
swollen and I asked the crew leader to take me to the doctor. He told me
… he didn’t have time to be taking me to the doctor. Finally I went to
the doctor on my own. I have thousands of dollars in medical bills and I
have never received any money for the time I lost from work. This was more
than a year ago and my leg still swells, hurts and I almost can’t
The pressure on workers to keep injuries to themselves is tremendous.
Again, this is related to employers’ absolute control of the right of
guestworkers to be present in, work in and return to the United States.
Workers who report injuries are sometimes asked to sign forms saying they
are quitting. They are told that if they sign and go home, they may be
allowed to come back the following year.
They also face the implied and real threat of blacklisting.
A 1999 study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reported
that “[b]lacklisting of H-2A workers appears to be widespread, is highly
organized, and occurs at all stages of the recruitment and employment
process. Workers report that the period of blacklisting now lasts three
years, up from one year earlier in the decade.”
Filing a workers’ compensation claim is often the end of the only paying
employment available to a worker. Workers generally file such a claim only
when they perceive that the gravity of their injury will itself interfere
with their ability to work again. If the injury appears temporary and the
worker believes he will recover, he often takes the chance of not filing a
claim to preserve his option for future employment. (Continued below)
Angela was studying psychology in the Dominican Republic when she decided to become a guestworker in a New
Orleans hotel, in part to earn money to pay medical bills
for her cancer-stricken mother.
Like most guestworkers, Angela was promised plenty of work.
She would need it, because she had taken on $4,000 in debt
to pay the fees necessary to obtain the job and the
nine-month H-2B visa.
“Every one of us took out a loan to come here,” she
said. “We had planned to pay back our debt with our job
here. They told us we would have overtime, that we could get paid
double for holidays, that we would have a place to live at
low cost, and it was all a lie.”
When she arrived in New Orleans in April 2006, she was given
a desk job at the hotel, earning $6 an hour. She worked
full-time, with some overtime, for the first month. But then
her hours started dwindling; soon she was working only 15 to
20 per week, earning an average of $120 per week. She hardly
had enough money to eat three meals a day after paying for
housing and transportation.
“We would just buy Chinese food because it was the cheap-
est. We would buy one plate a day for about $11 and share it
between two or three people. Sometimes we would eat bread
and cheese. Sometimes we would make rice.”
Her visa did not allow her to seek other employment, not
even a part-time job and she fell deeper in debt.
She felt trapped by debt and by the promise she had made:
She and her mother had signed a guarantee that she would
finish the contract — or pay $10,000. If she could not
pay, the recruiters would take her mother’s belongings.
“I felt like an animal without claws — defenseless. It
is the same as slavery. There are some people that believe the guestworker
program is a good idea, but it is not. … You put all your
savings and hope into what this work promises and you accept
the small amount of hours they give, the poor working
conditions, and the low pay.”
Angela’s plans are ruined. “I cannot even talk to my
mother about all of the troubles I have been having because
I don’t want her to worry and feel sicker. This is the
other part that I have to swallow. It’s like you are in
hell and you are closed in and you don’t know where the
exit is. It’s terrible.”
Part Eight - Lack of Government Enforcement
Government enforcement of basic labor protections has decreased for all
American workers in recent decades. The number of wage and hour
investigators in the Department of Labor (DOL) declined by 14 percent
between 1974 and 2004, and the number of completed compliance actions
declined by 36 percent. During this same period, the number of U.S.
workers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act increased by more than
half — from about 56.6 million to about 87.7 million.41 The Brennan
Center for Justice concluded in 2005 that “these two trends indicate a
significant reduction in the government’s capacity to ensure that
employers are complying with the most basic workplace laws.”
This decline in enforcement has particularly grave consequences for
guestworkers, who are far more vulnerable to abuses than U.S. workers and
in great need of government protection.
Conspicuously absent from proposals to expand guestworker programs —
including proposals to create hundreds of thousands, or millions, of new
guestworker positions — is any discussion about a substantial increase
in the federal budget for the DOL and the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration to ensure that guestworkers are protected on their jobs.
The rights of guestworkers can be enforced in two ways: through actions
taken by government agencies, mainly the DOL, and through lawsuits filed
by private attorneys, federally funded Legal Services (H-2A workers only)
or non-profit legal organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Workers face high hurdles to obtaining justice through either method.
Government enforcement has proven largely ineffective. The DOL actively
investigates only H-2A workplaces. In 2004 the DOL con- ducted 89
investigations into H-2A employers.44 Today, there are about 6,700
businesses certified to employ H-2A workers.
There are currently about 8,900 employers certified to hire H-2B workers,
but there do not appear to be any available data on how many
investigations the DOL conducts of these employers. Evidence suggests it
is far fewer than the number of H-2A employers investigated, particularly
given the DOL’s stance that it is not empowered to enforce the terms of
an H-2B worker’s contract. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s
extensive experience in the field suggests that there were not many.
Though violations of federal regulations or individual contracts are
common, DOL rarely instigates enforcement actions. And when employers do
violate the legal rights of workers, the DOL takes no action to stop them
from importing more workers. The Government Accountability Office reported
in 1997 that the DOL had never failed to approve an application to import
H-2A workers because an employer had violated the legal rights of workers.
Government officials have demonstrated a lack of will to address even the
most serious abuses. For example, a forestry contractor was sued in North
Carolina on behalf of a group of H-2B tree planters who were housed in a
storage shed with only one cold water spigot to share between them. They
cooked over fires and with a gas grill through the snowy North Carolina
winter. The workers claimed that when they tried to leave, their
supervisor locked the gates and refused to let them go unless they repaid
money he had lent them to buy sleeping bags and fuel for the gas grill,
and paid him rent for a portable toilet.
The DOL’s wage and hour division had earlier documented what it called
“a woeful history of labor violations,” including unsafe living and
working conditions and wage abuses. Yet the forestry contractor continued
to receive permission to import guestworkers. When the DOL’s Employment
and Training Administration refused to cancel guestworker services to this
employer, North Carolina’s monitor advocate, a state official who is
supposed to enforce farmworker rights, filed a complaint with the DOL’s
inspector general. A year and a day after the filing of that complaint,
Guatemalan men employed by this forestry company were killed on the way to
work when their van crashed into a river in Maine.
As a practical matter, the nature of the guestworker program makes DOL
enforcement of some provisions unrealistic. Regulations, for instance,
require employers to provide H-2A workers with a minimum of three-fourths
of the hours specified in the contract and to pay for their transportation home. But there is currently no mechanism, such as a certification
by the employer, that allows the DOL to effectively monitor whether
employers comply with these requirements. After the contract period
expires, the worker must leave the country and is therefore not in a good
position to take action to protect his rights.
In addition, there are requirements that DOL refuses to enforce. In 2001,
the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Arriaga v. Florida Pacific
Farms found that guestworkers’ payment of transportation and visa
costs effectively brought their wages below the minimum allowed. The
employer was thus obligated to reimburse workers those costs in the first
week of work, to the extent that those expenditures effectively cut into
the workers’ receipt of the minimum wage. This is now settled law in the
11th Circuit, and other courts have followed with similar rulings.49
However, even in the states within the 11th Circuit’s jurisdiction —
Alabama, Florida and Georgia — the DOL has refused to enforce the ruling
and has failed to protect workers when they need it most.50
The DOL also takes the position that it cannot enforce the contractual
rights of workers, and it has declined to take action against employers
who confiscate passports and visas.
Because of the lack of government enforcement, it generally falls to the
workers to take action to protect themselves from abuses. Unfortunately,
filing lawsuits against abusive employers is not a realistic option in
most cases. Even if guestworkers know their rights — and most do not —
and even if private attorneys would take their cases — and most will not
— guestworkers risk black- listing and other forms of retaliation
against themselves or their families if they sue to protect their rights.
In one lawsuit the Southern Poverty Law Center filed, a labor recruiter
threatened to burn down a worker’s village in Guatemala if he did not
drop his case.51
While H-2A workers are eligible for representation by federally funded
Legal Services lawyers, these lawyers are prohibited from handling class
actions lawsuits. Given workers’ enormous fears of retaliation and
blacklisting, any system that relies on workers asserting their own legal
rights is unlikely to bring about systemic change. Having access to class
action litigation would at least permit cases to be brought by one or two
workers brave enough to challenge the system.
In addition, H-2A workers are specifically exempted from the major statute
designed to protect agricultural workers in the United States from abuse
and exploitation — the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker
Protection Act (AWPA). Adopted in 1983, it replaced the Farm Labor
Contractors Registration Act of 1963, which was enacted in the wake of the
Edward R. Murrow film about farmworkers, Harvest of Shame, aired by CBS
during Thanksgiving in 1960. Among other things, the AWPA provides migrant
farmworkers a legal mechanism to enforce the terms of the promises made to
them and the other terms of their agreement in federal court. But the
powerful protections of that law are not available to H-2A workers.
For H-2B workers, the situation is perhaps even more dire. Although they
are in the U.S. legally and are financially eligible, they are ineligible
for federally funded legal services because of their visa status. As a
result, most H-2B workers have no access to lawyers or information about
their legal rights at all. Because most do not speak English and are
extremely isolated, usually both geographically and socially, it is
unrealistic to expect that they would be able to take action to enforce
their own legal rights. Moreover, many of these workers have few rights to
Typically, workers will make complaints only if they are so severely
injured that they can no longer work, or once their work is finished. They
quite rationally weigh the costs of reporting contract violations or
dangerous working conditions against the potential benefits.
As a result, far too many workers are lured to the United States by false
promises only to find that they have no recourse. (Continued below)
In 2005, H-2A farmworkers who had worked in Kentucky filed a
complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) about the
conditions they had experienced on the job. The workers
alleged that the tobacco grower illegally farmed out the
workers to other growers who were not authorized to participate in the H-2A program. The workers further alleged
that, after a period of heavy rains, the grower plowed under
more than a third of her tobacco crop. The complaint stated
that, because the grower now needed fewer laborers, she
fired two of her H-2A workers on the pretext that they were
doing poor work.1
The fired workers were lucky enough to locate a legal
services organization, which assisted them in filing a
detailed eight-page complaint against the grower with the
DOL. The workers complained about being illegally fired and
about not being paid all the wages and reimbursements owed
them under the H-2A program.
When the legal services lawyer periodically called the DOL
to check on the status of the investigation, he was told
inconsistent things, including that the investigator had
gone out to conduct an immediate investigation and that the
complaint had not yet been assigned to an investigator. In
fact, the DOL waited nearly six months before sending an
investigator to look into the allegations. During that
six-month interval, the alleged legal violations became more
than two years old — and the DOL has a policy that it will
not investigate claims that are more than two years old. As
a result of the DOL’s failure to conduct a timely
investigation, the workers’ theoretical rights were
Part Nine - Labor Brokers
Many large employers who rely on guestworkers increasingly are attempting
to avoid responsibility for unlawful practices by obtaining workers
indirectly through a sub- contractor. This use of labor brokers puts
workers at greater risk of abuse and makes enforcement of their rights
even more difficult than it is already.
A lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) against the food
giant Del Monte vividly illustrates this problem.
The class action lawsuit was filed in 2006 on behalf of migrant
farmworkers who were systematically underpaid while working in south
Georgia for Del Monte subsidiaries. The plaintiffs are Mexican
guestworkers as well as domestic farmworkers who were recruited to plant
and harvest vegetables at Del Monte operations.52
These workers were promised and were entitled to receive the Adverse
Effect Wage Rate, which is established by the Department of Labor (DOL)
each year to ensure that the employment of foreign workers does not drive
down wages paid to U.S. workers. The plaintiffs, who are indigent farm-
workers, left their homes and families and spent considerable sums of
money to travel to Georgia to work for Del Monte. In their suit, the
workers assert that they were consistently cheated out of the wages to
which they were entitled. But despite the fact that they labored on Del
Monte farms and lived in housing provided by Del Monte, the company claims
none of the workers were its employees. The district court has yet to rule
on the merits of the workers’ wage claims.
Del Monte, in fact, accepts no responsibility for the workers because Del
Monte was not the company that petitioned the government for the H-2A
workers. The petitioner, rather, was a crew leader — a person with no
fields, no crop, no farm, no housing and no capital.
Increasingly, the people bringing guestworkers into the United States are
not the companies that end up using the labor, even though the entities
applying to DOL for permission to import workers are required to prove a
shortage of U.S. workers for available positions. Given that labor brokers
have no actual “jobs” available, it is difficult to fathom that they
are suffering from a shortage of workers. The DOL is approving these
In Florida, the majority of H-2A applications are now submitted through
such intermediaries. This trend greatly concerns guestworker advocates
because it permits the few protections pro- vided for these workers to be
vitiated in practice. Having a legal remedy against a labor contractor
with no assets is no remedy at all.
Two recent lawsuits illustrate how labor brokers traffic in vulnerable
foreign workers whom they hire out to a variety of different employers.
These workers, who usually speak no English and have no ability to move
about on their own, are completely at the mercy of these brokers for
housing, food and transportation. No matter how abusive the situation,
even if they are not paid and their movements are restricted, they
typically have no recourse whatsoever.
Guatemalans held captive
According to a lawsuit filed in February 2007, 12 Guatemalan guestworkers
claim they were held captive by agents for Imperial Nurseries, one of the
nation’s largest wholesalers of plants and shrubs. The men had been
recruited to plant pines in North Carolina, but after they arrived in the
state, they were transported by van to Connecticut and forced to work
nearly 80 hours a week in nursery fields. They were housed in a filthy
apartment without beds, and instead of the $7.50 an hour they were
promised, they earned what amounted to $3.75 an hour before deductions for
telephone service and other costs. Their passports were confiscated, they
were denied emergency medical care, and they were threatened with
deportation and jail if they complained. Some of the workers escaped
without their passports and soon were replaced by fresh recruits from
Guatemala. Eventually, one of the workers managed to explain his situation
to the congregation of a local church, which helped him find legal aid.
In a statement to The New York Times, a lawyer representing Imperial
Nurseries said the allegations “relate to the conduct of an independent
farm labor contractor which was responsible for compensating its
In a similar case, lawyers with Legal Aid of North Carolina are
representing a group of Thai workers who have filed for immigration relief
as victims of trafficking. These workers also have filed a federal lawsuit
against a company called Million Express Manpower Inc. They claim the
company held them captive — sometimes watching over them with guns —
in North Carolina and in New Orleans, where they were transported to help
demolish flooded buildings after Katrina.
These cases are symptomatic of a flawed program that encourages the
private trafficking of foreign workers with barely any government
Part Ten - Systematic Discrimination
Discrimination based on national origin, race, age, disability and gender
is deeply entrenched in the H-2 guest- worker system.
In fact, one federal appellate court has placed its stamp of approval upon
such discrimination. In Reyes-Gaona v. NCGA,55 the 4th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals found that even explicit age discrimination in hiring H-2A
workers was not unlawful. In that case, there was little dispute that the
recruiter, Del-Al Associates, which recruits thousands of guestworkers to
the United States, told Luis Reyes-Gaona, who applied in Mexico to be an
H-2A worker in North Carolina that it was the policy of the North Carolina
Growers Association (NCGA), for whom Del Al was recruiting, that NCGA
would not accept new employees over the age of 40. The court found that
because this choice had occurred outside the territory of the United
States, it was not actionable under the Age Discrimination in Employment
Although it is possible that other courts will reach a different
conclusion on this issue, there is little doubt that such discrimination
is pervasive. Indeed, the ability to choose the exact characteristics of
a worker (male, age 25-40, Mexican, etc.) is one of the very factors that
make guestworker programs attractive to employers.
Marcela Olvera-Morales is a Mexican woman who worked as a guestworker in
1999 and 2002. In 2002, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
issued a determination finding reasonable cause to believe that she faced
unlawful discrimination on the basis of gender. She alleged that a
recruiter — the International Labor Management Corp., which places
thousands of guestworkers in U.S. jobs — systematically placed women in
H-2B jobs while placing men in H-2A jobs, which provide better pay and
benefits. Statistical data showed that the likelihood the gender-based
difference in the granting of visas was due to chance was less than one in
10,000. That case is pending in federal court.
Similarly, clients of the Southern Poverty Law Center who worked for
Decatur Hotels, a luxury hotel chain in New Orleans, in February 2007
filed a complaint with the EeoC charging systematic discrimination on the
basis of national origin. In that case, the employer filed three separate
applications with the DOL to seek workers. Each job classification in the
applications was to be paid at a different wage — $6.02 per hour for
Bolivians, $6.09 per hour for Dominicans and $7.79 per hour for Peruvians.
The rate that workers were paid was based solely on their national origin,
regardless of the kind of work they actually performed.
Women are particularly vulnerable to discrimination. Numerous women have
reported concerns about severe sexual harassment on the job.
There have been no studies that quantify this problem among guestworkers.
However, in a 1993 survey of farmworker women in California, more than 90
percent reported that sexual harassment was a major problem on the job.
In 1995, the EeoC met with farmworkers in Fresno, Calif., as part of an
effort to develop a more vigorous enforcement program in the agricultural
industry. William R. Tamayo, regional attorney for the EeoC in San
Francisco, said, “We were told that hundreds, if not thousands, of women
had to have sex with supervisors to get or keep jobs and/or put up with a
constant barrage of grabbing and touching and propositions for sex by
supervisors.” The farmworkers, in fact, referred to one company’s
field as the “fil de calzon,” or “field of panties,” because so
many women had been raped by supervisors there.
Given the acute vulnerability of guestworkers in general, one can
extrapolate that women guest- workers are extraordinarily defenseless in
the face of sexual harassment. Indeed, given the power imbalance between
employers and their guestworkers, it is hard to imagine how a guestworker
facing harassment on the job could alleviate her situation. Assuming that
she, like most workers, had taken out substantial debt to obtain the job
and given that she would not be permitted to work for any employer other
than the offender, her options would be severely limited.
Martina*, a guestworker from Mexico, has first-hand experience with gender
discrimination and sexual harassment. She came to the United States with
an H-2B visa to process crabs. She knew from past work that men always
process oysters and women always process crabs. And the men are paid
higher wages than the women. One year Martina was brought in to work
during oyster season. When she arrived at the airport, she was met by the
plant manager who made it clear that she had been hired to be his
mistress. The DOL has approved H-2B visas for this plant for years.60
It is no coincidence that these forms of discrimination exist in
guestworker programs; many of the recruiting agencies tout the great
benefits of hiring workers from one country or another.
Employers can even shop for guestworkers over the Internet at websites such as
www.mexican-workers.com. One website advertises its Mexican recruits like human commodities,
touting Mexican guestworkers as “people with a strong work ethic”
and “happy, agreeable people who we like a lot.”
When employers are permitted to shop for workers as though they were
ordering from a catalog, discrimination is the likely, perhaps inevitable
Part Eleven - Housing
When it comes to housing, guestworkers aren’t treated like “guests”
of the United States at all. In fact, they are frequently forced to live
in squalor. Many find themselves held captive by unscrupulous employers or
labor brokers who confiscate their passports, restrict their movements,
extort payments from them and threaten them with arrest and deportation if
they attempt to escape.
Under federal regulations, employers hiring H-2A workers must provide them
with free housing. The housing must be inspected and certified in advance
as complying with applicable safety and health regulations.
In practice, the quality of housing provided to H-2A workers varies widely
and is often seriously substandard, even dangerous.
H-2B workers have even less protection. There are no general federal
regulations governing the conditions of labor camps or housing for H-2B
workers. State and local laws also generally do not cover housing for H-2B
workers. In practice, this means that H-2B workers are often provided
housing that lacks even basic necessities, such as beds and cooking
Because the Department of Labor has failed to promulgate any regulations,
employers that choose to provide housing to H-2B workers (and most do, for
reasons of practical necessity) are permitted to charge rent. The rent
— often exorbitant — is generally deducted from the workers’ pay.
This often results in workers earning far less than they expected and
sometimes substantially less than the minimum wage.
In addition, housing for both H-2A and H-2B workers is often located in
extremely isolated rural locations, subjecting workers to other kinds of
difficulties. In most instances, workers lack both vehicles and access to
public transportation. As a result, they are totally dependent upon their
employers for transportation to work and to places like grocery stores and
banks. Some employers charge exorbitant fees for rides to the grocery
store. Much of the housing provided to workers lacks telephone service,
isolating workers even further.
These conditions not only create daily hardships for guestworkers, they
increase employers’ already formidable power over them.
Hernan was one of six Mexican H-2B workers who traveled to
the United States in September 2006 under a contract that called for them
to work in the forestry industry in Arkansas. Upon arrival, their employer
asked for their passports and visas to “make copies” but never
Instead of Arkansas, they were taken to a sweet potato farm in Louisiana
and left there to work. As it turned out, they were doing H-2A work on
H-2B visas and for an employer who had not applied for their visas. Under
the law, H-2A workers have more rights and benefits than H-2B workers.
The Mexicans lived in an abandoned two-story house with no door on the
hinges and no glass, except for a few broken shards, in the windows.
“There was no electricity when we first lived there,” Hernan said.
“There was no heat. There were a few mattresses but no blankets. There
were only a few pieces of furniture. At night we would push them against
the window frames to keep the air out because there was no glass. We told
the company we could not sleep well enough at night to even work. When it
rained the house leaked. We had to find corners in the house to hide so we
would not get wet.
“We were picking sweet potatoes and were paid by the bucket. The first
week we were not paid. The second week we were paid $70. We had been
working every day from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., with 30 minutes for lunch. We had
to find a ride to Wal-Mart to get bedding. We hardly had enough money.”
Eventually, the original contractor returned to Louisiana because he heard
the workers were complaining about low wages and wanted their passports
back so they could go home. The contractor told them that anyone who
didn’t like the work could give him $1,600 and he would return their
passports. The workers did not have the money, so they left without
telling the contractor — without money and without their passports.
Their wives in Mexico began receiving threats from the contractor, who has
left messages at a community phone saying that their husbands must each
pay him $2,000 or he will report them to immigration for deportation or
incarceration. These six workers are now trying to find a way to get their
legal documents returned to them.
A group of about 20 guestworkers from Thailand recently faced an equally
desperate situation. According to a lawsuit filed on their behalf by Legal
Aid of North Carolina in February 2007, they each paid $11,000 to obtain
agricultural jobs. Recruiters told them, falsely, that they would have
employment for three years earning $8.24 an hour. When they arrived in
August 2005, one of the men acting as a labor broker confiscated their
passports, visas and return airplane tickets.
Initially, they were housed in a local hotel, three men to
a room. After a few weeks, the number of rooms was reduced, so that they
were living five to a room. Eventually, they were moved to buildings
behind the house of the labor broker, where they shared one bath. Some
workers had to sleep on the floor. After a few more weeks, their employer
began to reduce their food rations, leaving them hungry.
Throughout their stay, the Thai workers were told they would be arrested
and deported if they escaped. On several occasions, according to the
lawsuit, the labor broker and his son displayed guns to the workers.
Watched by Guards
Less than two months after their arrival, some of the workers were taken
to New Orleans, where they were put to work demolishing the interiors of
hotels and restaurants ruined by the flooding from Hurricane Katrina. They
lived in several storm-damaged hotels during their stay, including one
that had no electricity or hot water and was filled with debris and mold.
It had no potable water, so the workers were forced to use contaminated
water for cooking.
During their stay in New Orleans, the workers were guarded by a man with a
gun. They also were not paid for the work, so they had no money to buy
food. Some were eventually taken back to North Carolina. The men who
remained in New Orleans managed to escape with the help of local people
who learned of their plight. The other workers also escaped after their
In 2003, a group of women from Hidalgo, Mexico, traveled to Cocoa, Fla.,
on H-2A visas to harvest tomatoes. They did not know they would be locked
up. “El patron would put a lock on the gate where our trailers were, and
he or a trusted worker were the only ones who could open it,” one of the
women told the Palm Beach Post. Another said, “After a time, they would
not let us communicate with other people. Everything was locked up with a
The Hidalgo women were lucky enough to find lawyers who could help them
hold their employer accountable through a class action lawsuit (the
settlement of which is confidential). But too often, workers do not have
access to legal assistance and must choose between continuing to endure
such deplorable abuses or attempting to escape into a foreign land without
passports, money, contacts or tickets home.
These are not isolated cases. Time and again, advocates for guestworkers
hear these stories.
Part Twelve - Recommendations
As this report shows, the H-2 guestworker program is fundamentally
flawed. Because guestworkers are tied to a single employer and have little
or no ability to enforce their rights, they are routinely exploited. The
guestworker program should not be expanded or used as a model for immigration reform. If this program is permitted to continue at all, it should be
radically altered to address the vast disparity in power between
guestworkers and their employers.
I. Federal laws and regulations protecting guestworkers
from abuse must be strengthened:
•Guestworkers should be able to obtain visas that do not tie them to a
specific employer. The current restriction denies guestworkers the most
fundamental protection of a free labor market and is at the heart of many
abuses they face.
•Congress should provide a process allowing guestworkers to gain
permanent residency, with their families, over time. Large- scale,
long-term guestworker programs that treat workers as short-term
commodities are inconsistent with our society’s core values of democracy
•Employers should be required to bear all the costs of recruiting and
transporting guestworkers to this country. Federal regulations should be
consistent with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Arriaga
v. Florida Pacific Farms. Requiring guestworkers to pay these fees encourages the over-recruitment of
guestworkers and puts them in a position of debt peonage that leads to
•Entities acting as labor brokers for employers that actually use the
guestworkers should not be allowed to obtain certification from the
Department of Labor to bring them in. Allowing these middlemen to obtain
certification shields the true employer from responsibility for the
mistreatment of guestworkers.
•Congress should require the Department of Labor to promulgate labor
regulations for H-2B workers that are comparable to the H-2A
regulations. It is unconscionable that H-2B workers do not have even the
minimal protections available to H-2A workers.
•Congress should require employers to pay at least the “adverse effect
wage rate” in all guestworker programs to protect against the downward
pressure on wages. Guestworker pro- grams should not be a mechanism to
drive wages down to the minimum wage.
•Congress should eliminate the barriers that prevent guestworkers from
receiving workers’ compensation benefits. Workers currently must
navigate a bewildering state-by-state system that effectively blocks many
injured workers from obtaining benefits.
•Guestworkers should be protected from discrimination on the same terms
as workers hired in the United States. Permitting employers to “shop”
for workers with certain characteristics outside of the United States is
offensive to our system of justice and nondiscrimination.
II. Federal agency enforcement of guestworker protections must be
•Congress should require that all employers report to the Department of Labor, at the conclusion of a guestworker’s term of
employment and under penalty of perjury, on their compliance with the
terms of the law and the guestworker’s contract. There currently
is no mechanism allowing the government to ensure that employers comply
with guestworker contracts.
•Employers using guestworkers should be required to post a bond that is
at least sufficient in value to cover the workers’ legal wages. A system
should be created to permit workers to make claims against the bond.
Guestworkers, who must return to their country when their visas expire,
typically have no way of recovering earned wages that are not paid by
•There should be a massive increase in funding for federal agency
enforcement of guestworker protections. Guestworkers are the most
vulnerable workers in this country, but there is scant government
enforcement of their rights.
•The Department of Labor should be authorized to enforce all guestworker agreements. The DOL takes the position that it does not
have legal authority to enforce H-2B guestworker contracts.
• The Department of Labor should create a streamlined process to deny
guestworker applications from employers that have violated the rights of
guestworkers. Employers who abuse guest- workers continue to be granted
certification by the DOL to bring in new workers.
III. Congress must provide guestworkers with meaningful access to the
•Congress should make all guestworkers eligible for federally funded
legal services. H-2B workers are currently not eligible for legal aid
•Because of the unique challenges faced by guestworkers, the restriction
on federally funded legal services that prohibits class action
representation should be lifted.
•Congress should provide a civil cause of action and criminal
penalties for employers or persons who confiscate or hold guestworker
documents. This common tactic is designed to hold guestworkers hostage.
•Congress should provide a federal cause of action allowing all
guestworkers to enforce their contracts.
These reforms are overdue. For too long, our country has benefited from
the labor provided by guestworkers but has failed to provide a fair system
that respects their human rights and upholds the most basic values of our
democracy. The time has come for Congress to overhaul our shamefully
abusive guestworker system.
The Southern Poverty Law Center would like to thank the many people who
contributed to this report, in particular the guestworkers who told their
stories. Organizations that provided valuable assistance include: the
Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina, the North Carolina Justice
Center, Florida Legal Services, the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project and
Southern Migrant Legal Services.
"Close to Slavery"- Guestworker Programs in the
United States - A report by the Southern
Poverty Law Center (PDF). For more information about
the Southern Poverty Law Center or to obtain additional copies of this
report, call (334) 956-8200 --- www.splcenter.org
About the Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama, is a nonprofit civil rights organization with more than 250,000 members nationwide. It was founded in 1971 to combat bigotry and discrimination through litigation, education and advocacy. Its Immigrant Justice Project has filed numerous lawsuits and class actions on behalf of migrant laborers and guestworkers in a variety of industries across the South. Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project, is the principal author of this report. Sarah Reynolds, an outreach paralegal, was the primary researcher.
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