ACLU Joins Lawsuit Challenging Trafficking of Indian Guestworkers
Abuse of Workers in Federal Program Violates US and International Human Rights Law
NEW ORLEANS - The
American Civil Liberties Union today charged that workers brought to
the United States from India to work in shipyards after Hurricane
Katrina were misleadingly recruited, exploited and mistreated. The ACLU
and the law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP joined a class action
lawsuit brought on behalf of over 500 guestworkers charging the workers
were trafficked into the U.S. through the federal government's H-2B
guestworker program with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful
permanent U.S. residents and subjected to squalid living conditions,
fraudulent payment practices and threats of serious harm upon their
"Immigrant guestworkers are among
the most vulnerable groups of workers in the United States," said
Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program
and co-counsel in the case. "Often paying exorbitant sums of money to
deceitful and abusive recruiters in their home countries, these
guestworkers are subject to the control of a single 'employer-sponsor'
once they've arrived in the U.S., with no safeguards in place to
protect even the limited rights guaranteed by law."
The complaint charges that
recruiting agents hired by the marine industry company Signal
International held the guestworkers' passports and visas, coerced them
into paying extraordinary fees for recruitment, immigration processing
and travel, and threatened the workers with serious legal and physical
harm if they did not work under the Signal-restricted guestworker visa.
The complaint also charges that once in the U.S., the men were required
to live in Signal's guarded, overcrowded labor camps, subjected to
psychological abuse and defrauded out of adequate payment for their
"Trafficking immigrants to perform
forced labor for little to no pay under the guise of a guestworker
program amounts to involuntary servitude," said Bhatnagar. "The
government must take immediate action to stop sanctioning worker abuse
and fix this dangerous system."
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The ACLU charges that the federal
government has fallen short of its responsibility to protect the rights
of guestworkers in this country. According to the lawsuit, the workers
are victims of human trafficking and their treatment violates the
Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA), which is
meant to protect and defend the human rights of victims of contemporary
slavery and trafficking. The TVPA is currently up for reauthorization.
The ACLU and Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP
join the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Asian American Legal Defense
and Education Fund, the Louisiana Justice Institute and the New Orleans
Workers' Center for Racial Justice in the lawsuit against Signal, which
was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of
Louisiana in March 2008. The litigation arose out of a broader
organizing campaign spearheaded by the Alliance of Guestworkers for
Dignity, a project of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial
The amended complaint is available online at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/
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