Can't display this module in this section.

Have a Concern about a Farmworker Camp? Let FAN know by filling out a brief survey.

Share a Confidential Concern

concerns about housing, wage violations, health and safety, or other

Report Enforcement Issues

problems related to your experience filing a complaint or reporting a concern

Report Access Issues

Violations of farmworkers’ right to receive visitors

« Job Demands and Pesticide Exposure Among Immigrant Latino Farmworkers | Main
Wednesday
Aug042010

Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States

Southern Poverty Law Center, 2007

Download the report now.

From the Executive Summary:

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 States.

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 geographically 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 industries.

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.