June 2, 2006

Global Workers is pleased to report that it was able to obtain legal support for the Guatemalan guestworkers who were deceived into working in extremely exploitative conditions in Connecticut in violation of their H-2B contract. A legal team was assembled within days of Cathleen’s return from Guatemala. The exploitation is severe enough to warrant an investigation into possible human trafficking. Unfortunately, guestworkers vulnerability to abuse is increased by their lack of information about their rights and support services in the United States. Without Global Workers being notified of this case while in Guatemala, it is very unlikely that the workers would have found any relief.

Preliminary difficulties have surfaced in obtaining support for the Guatemalan worker who was injured while working in the US as an H-2B landscaper. After some initial inquiries, there is concern that it will be too complicated both practically and legally to pursue the case because the worker is no longer present in the United States. This is precisely why Global Workers exists: to facilitate transnational representation to reduce migrant worker exploitation. It is unacceptable that workers are cut off from justice because they obey the rules and return home when their visa requires them to do so. The system should reward, not punish these workers. Global Workers thanks Friends of Farmworkers for taking the lead to secure support for the worker.

Both of these cases demonstrate some of the flaws in the guestworker program as it operates today. 1. Foreign guestworkers without knowledge of their rights in the United States are more vulnerable to exploitation. 2. Without accessible legal support in the countries of origin, the workers who return from the United States have virtually no ability to challenge any ill treatment that may have occurred. 3. The legal system is not responsive to the mobile workforce and therefore workers who are no longer physically present in the United States are frequently denied access to justice.

Guestworkers are not a disposable workforce. These workers come to the United States because we invite them. If the workers live up to their responsibilities and return to their countries at the end of the contract, it is this country’s corresponding obligation to guarantee them access to protections and services for wrongs suffered in the United States.

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