SPLC Praises Passage of Human Trafficking Bill, Urges More Reform

Act would allow labor recruiters to be prosecuted for fraud when they lure workers with false promises 

The Southern Poverty Law Center praised Congress on Thursday for protecting immigrant workers by passing a human trafficking bill that allows unscrupulous labor recruiters to be prosecuted for fraud, but said more reform is needed to protect these workers from exploitation.

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 would allow foreign labor recruiters to be prosecuted for fraud when they lure workers to the United States with false promises. Currently, criminal prosecution of such cases is difficult, generally requiring a possible violation of mail or wire fraud laws. The legislation passed the House and Senate Wednesday.

"These immigrant workers too often end up in deplorable work conditions after paying thousands of dollars to recruiters who promised high-paying jobs and U.S. citizenship," said Mary Bauer, director of the SPLC's Immigrant Justice Project. "This bill is a good first step to protecting workers who are exploited simply because they sought a better life."

The bill also improves protections for trafficking victims and enhances their right to sue for damages.

These reforms should be the catalyst for the passage of an even more comprehensive foreign labor recruitment bill, Bauer said. Needed reforms include a system for registering and monitoring labor recruiters, holding employers responsible for the actions of their foreign labor recruiters and allowing foreign workers to sue both the employer and recruiter for violations.

U.S. Rep. George Miller of California has proposed comprehensive reform, which needs to be passed by the new Congress, Bauer said.

"Employers have been allowed to wash their hands of the fraudulent actions of their recruiters for too long," she said. "We've allowed them to destroy the lives and dreams of too many workers. Comprehensive reform needs to be a priority for the next Congress and the new administration."

An SPLC lawsuit filed earlier this year on behalf of hundreds of Indian guestworkers highlights the severity of the problem. Lured by false promises of permanent U.S. residency, the workers each paid up to $20,000 to obtain temporary jobs at Gulf Coast shipyards with Signal International LLC, only to be forced into involuntary servitude and overcrowded, guarded labor camps.

The SPLC documented similar exploitation in Close to Slavery, a 2007 report that described the systematic abuse of foreign guestworkers by recruiters and employers.

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