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Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 1:56pm

Guest Worker Program Questioned

A report released Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center says the federal guest worker program encourages employers to exploit foreign workers.

Mary Bauer with the Southern Poverty Law Center says the H2A and H2B programs are often akin to slavery. Some workers have reported being locked up in compounds, with deplorable living conditions.

“Because they are permitted only to work for the employer who petitioned the government for them, they’re extremely vulnerable to abuse.”she says.

A man from Guatemala told reporters he was brought to the U.S. to work and his employer took his passport. He said he was barred from leaving the farm where he worked 12 to 14 hour days.

Bauer says “Because most workers take out significant loans to travel to the U.S., as a practical matter they are forced to remain in the United States and work for employers, even when they are subject to shameful abuse.”

Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights,
says overseas recruiters often convince workers to put up thousands of dollars to come to the U.S.
“Charge them exorbitant amounts for recruitment, transportation, visas, food and other fees.”he says.

Then the workers can’t pay off the debt.
Henderson says some employers see these workers as cheap, disposable labor.

“They have few places to turn, few lobbying groups or sympathetic government ears in order to seek help and improve their conditions. They exist in a netherworld that is as close to slavery as anything we find in America today.”he says.

Georgia’s Labor Department reviews contracts to make sure workers here are paid prevailing wages. The state also inspects housing conditions. But the federal government gives final approval and certifies workers.

Georgia has about 11 thousand guest workers. They work in agriculture, forestry, groundskeeping, landscaping and industrial labor.