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March 19, 2007

The chronic and pervasive fraud on the US government must stop. The H2 guest worker program is riddled with deceit of workers and the government. Relying on the good will of the employer is not an acceptable regulatory scheme. Workers are being exploited on a daily basis and we are doing very little to stop it. In fact, the government may expand the program with little reform to curb the current problems.

On a regular basis, foreign workers are promised certain working conditions when they are home but are then traded between employers like poker chips once they arrive in the USA.

Consider the worker who called Global Workers looking for help two days ago. He was promised $8/hour to lay bricks in Maryland. The plane ticket from Guatemala, local transportation to work, and housing would all be free he was told. Sounding like a good job offer, “pedro” and 100 others obtained H2 visas and flew to Maryland. But when he arrived, everything changed.

Instead of laying bricks, he was told to clean up asbestos. Given just a mask, protective eye wear, and a helmet, he was put to work for $8.00/ hour. Another surprise quickly followed. The first pay check showed deductions for all the things he had been promised for free. Conditions were so bad that many workers left the contract to seek employment elsewhere or went home. Needing more laborers, the contractor hired unauthorized workers at $20.75/hour for the same work.

Oversight of the H2 program is basically non-existent. The US is sending a double message. On the one hand, immigration officials are deporting unauthorized workers with the purportedly strong message that law breakers are not tolerated. Meanwhile, the government allows the legal workers to be abused with impunity. The only reason this asbestos case may be an exception is because Global Workers was alerted to the abuse by workers who had returned to Guatemala. Once home they were angry and “felt deceived.” The message is clear: going the legal route does not give a worker any more protection than an unauthorized worker. This is totally unacceptable.

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