Are today’s guest workers really indentured servants?

Are today’s guest workers really indentured servants?

Bob Herbert

A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center details the widespread abuse of “guest workers” in the U.S. Workers recruited from Mexico, South America, Asia, and elsewhere to work in American hotels and in such Labor-intensive industries as forestry, seafood processing, and construction are often ruthlessly exploited and cheated out of their wages. They are bound like indentured servants to the middlemen and employers who arrange their work. And they are virtual hostages of the companies that employ them. Many of them take on heavy debt to participate in the program. Worried about their families back home, and with their debt hanging over their heads, the workers are most often docile, even in the face of the most egregious treatment. The result, says the report, is that they are “systematically exploited and abused.” President Bush has pushed to expand guest-worker programs as part of his effort to revise the nation’s immigration laws. To expand them without looking closely at the abuses taking place would be both tragic and ridiculous.

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