Saturday, June 23, 2012

It doesn't have to be trafficking to be exploitative and wrong

This is an excellent report that highlights the exploitation in legal avenues of immigration like our guestworker programs.  For example, this story:

Daniel Castellanos Contreras
Daniel was among the first guestworkers to arrive in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He
and 300 others were brought to the U.S. on H-2B visas by Decatur Hotels, LLC. The workers
found themselves in horrific conditions, and started to organize. Their legal fight became a
battleground for the rights of guestworkers throughout the United States.
My name is Daniel Castellanos. I am from Lima, Peru, and I am a father and husband. I came to
the United States on an H-2B visa but became an organizer. I am one of the founding members
of NGA, a membership organization of guestworkers who came together to fight exploitation
after Hurricane Katrina and grew to become the national voice of guestworkers in the United
Just after Katrina, I saw an ad in a Peruvian newspaper—an employer in New Orleans was
looking for workers. My family was desperate for money. The economy of Latin America pushes
us into hopelessness and vulnerability—the kind of vulnerability that Americans are just
beginning to understand. We are forced to wander far from our families in search of jobs. I
responded to the advertisement.
Recruiters for Patrick Quinn III, a New Orleans hotel giant, promised us good jobs, fair pay, and
comfortable accommodations. They asked for $3,000 as payment for the opportunity to work in
the United States. I plunged my family into debt to pay the fees.
When I came to the United States, I found that all the promises they made were false. Patrick
Quinn had brought about 300 workers from Peru, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic on H-2B
visas. We were living in atrocious conditions and were subjected to humiliating treatment. When
we raised our voices, we were threatened with deportation—and because of the terms of the H-
2B visa, we could not work for anyone else.
I found out that in order to receive H-2B visas, Patrick Quinn had to convince the Department of
Labor that he could not find a single U.S. worker willing or able to do the work he was offering.
When I arrived in New Orleans, I found that his hotels were full of displaced African
Americans—survivors of Hurricane Katrina—who were desperately looking for work. Quinn
had received a multi-million dollar contract from FEMA to house Katrina survivors in his hotels.
If Quinn needed workers, all he had to do was to go to his own hotel and offer people work.
Instead of hiring workers from the displaced and jobless African American community, he sent
recruiters to hire us. At around $6.00 an hour, we were cheaper. As temporary workers, we were
more exploitable. We were hostage to the debt in our home countries; we were terrified of
deportation; and we were bound to Quinn and could not work for anyone else. We were Patrick
Quinn’s captive workforce.
But Patrick Quinn underestimated us. We built an organization and filed a major federal lawsuit
against him. Two days after the lawsuit was filed, Quinn retaliated by firing me. I fought back,
and the National Labor Relations Board ordered him to reinstate me.
Meanwhile, we heard stories—some much worse than our own—of other guestworkers who
were being stripped of their dignity by employers across the Gulf Coast. Employers were holding
workers captive in labor camps, confiscating their passports, subjecting them to surveillance,
leasing workers for a profit in violation of morality and the law, and trafficking workers into
conditions of imprisonment. We called it modern-day slavery and decided to fight. With over
150 H-2B workers from labor camps and industries across the Gulf Coast, we founded a
membership organization called the National Guestworker Alliance.

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