04/23/2009

SPLC to Congress: Protect H-2B Guestworkers, Enforce Labor Laws Aggressively

The U.S. Department of Labor should repeal Bush administration regulations that have shredded labor protections for foreign guestworkers and aggressively enforce labor laws to protect all workers from exploitation, a Southern Poverty Law Center expert told a U.S. House subcommittee today.

Mary Bauer, director of the SPLC's Immigrant Justice Project, told the U.S. House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy that the regulations enacted by the Bush administration in its waning days have undercut the rights of H-2B guestworkers, who come to the United States for temporary, low-skill jobs. These workers are often pushed into debt by large fees charged by labor brokers, and they are routinely cheated out of wages and subjected to abusive work conditions.

Bauer called on Congress to enact legislation that greatly expands the legal rights of H-2B workers, noting that many of the abuses in the program stem from the great disparity in power between guestworkers — who cannot change jobs under the program — and their employers. She also called for increased enforcement of laws protecting all workers, noting a decline in enforcement activity in recent years.

"In practice, the (guestworker) program is rife with abuses," she said in prepared testimony. "The abuses typically start long before the worker has arrived in the United States and continue through and even after his or her employment here."

The exploitation of guestworkers and the SPLC's recommendations for reforming the system are outlined in the March 2007 report Close to Slavery.

Read Bauer's testimony before the House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy.