The 21st-Century Version of Slavery Is Widespread In America

The H-2B visa program is widely used to enslave foreign workers according to recent reports by anti-poverty groups.

A 21st-century version of slavery—captive labor—is rampant at the bottom of the U.S. economy, and Washington politicians and business lobbies want to keep it that way, or even expand it as part of the immigration reform talks now in Congress.

Under a system of “legalized slavery,” foreign workers are routinely thrown in massive debt, cheated out of wages, housed in squalid shacks, held captive by brokers and businesses that seize passports, Social Security cards and return tickets, denied healthcare, rented to other employers (including the military), and sexually harassed and threatened with firing and deportation if they complain, according to two detailed reports by the  Southern Poverty Law Center and the  National Guestworker Alliance. The reports are based on sworn testimony gathered for lawsuits.

These reports describe in excruciating detail how predatory capitalists in many manual labor-based industries (supplying national brands like Walmart) lure and prey upon foreigners whose jobs average less than $10 an hour with little regard for human rights, labor law or legal consequence.

Under the H-2B visa program, the foreigners are trapped. They’re not allowed to work for anyone else. “Unlike U.S. citizens, guestworkers do not enjoy the most fundamental protection of a competitive job market—the ability to change jobs if they are mistreated,” SPLC said. “They are bound to the employers who 'import' them. If guestworkers complain about abuses, they face deportation, blacklisting or other retaliation.”

...some H-2B contracts are little more than fabrications to obtain the legally required paperwork. The foreigners are "rented" by their visa sponsors to other businesses, which in turn deny knowledge of abusive treatment. ..."... leasing workers for a profit in violation of morality and the law, and trafficking workers into conditions of imprisonment."

Sexual harrassment and violence is real, the advocates say.

The structure of the visa outlines the elements of worker exploitation, creating the structure and incentivizing exploitive behavior on the part of employers. Guestworkers are clear that recruiters, subcontractors, employers and even the local police have a stake in the economic system which turns guestworkers into exploitable and disposable machines to be used, abused, and cast aside through deportation when no longer wanted or needed.”

... Congress blocked the U.S. Department of Labor from implementing new H-2B rules that were designed to stop many of these abuses...

[emphasis mine]

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Replies to This Discussion

These are things overlooked  by the middle-class-blind-eye opposed to anything not entertaining. And undocumented workers get it worse. They are exploited to undermine decent wages, yet scapegoat ed for that which businesses are to blame. Good material, Ruth, thank you for bringing to light one more mutation of slavery.

There is another form of legalized slavery in America.  It's called the for-profit prison system.  It is putting hard-working Americans out of work because prison workers are cheaper, thus more profitable.  Not only do the workers receive pennies per hour, but the for-profit prison makes a profit renting these people out. 

For-profit prisons spend hundreds of millions of dollars per state lobbying for harsher laws and harsher sentencing laws.  This grows the population and keeps them there longer. 



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