Immigration reform must protect guest workers from exploitation

As the U.S. Senate considers immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants, there is still a critical need for the legislation to reform the nation’s flawed guest worker program and protect these workers from exploitation. 

We are deeply troubled by the lack of any meaningful reform of the nation’s guest worker program in this legislation. This legislation has taken an important step to prevent trafficking by regulating foreign labor recruiters, but this deeply compromised bill gives fewer protections to the largest group of temporary workers — J-1 international cultural exchange workers — thanks to a loophole slipped into the border security amendment.

The SPLC has represented thousands of guest workers in the United States whose lives have been devastated by unscrupulous employers. These workers have few options to hold employers accountable. The SPLC also documented the abusive nature of the H-2 federal guest worker program for low-skill workers in its report Close to Slavery.

Rather than creating carve outs, this legislation presents an enormous opportunity to provide meaningful reform of flawed guest worker programs. Missing this opportunity will ensure the abuse of guest workers because unscrupulous employers will continue to play by their own set of rules.

This will help ensure a ready supply of cheap, exploitable labor that will only further depress wages for U.S. workers. During these last days of consideration, we hope the Senate will take this into account.