WASHINGTON, DC -- To end the indentured servitude of thousands of immigrant workers in the U.S., Rep. George Miller (D-CA) today announced legislation to hold employers and foreign labor contractors responsible for foreign workers recruited for jobs in the United States.
"Unscrupulous foreign labor contractors lure workers to the United States with promises of a better life and decent wages in exchange for thousands of dollars in fees," said Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.
"Instead of good jobs, workers wind up trapped in oppressive employment, often unable to repay their debts to recruiters or find other jobs. This is nothing short of a form of modern-day slavery, and it must end."
A 2005 report from the International Labor Organization found that 12.3 million people worldwide are trapped in forced labor, including 360,000 in industrialized countries. And a March 12 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center harshly criticized the U.S. H-2 guestworker program, which brought roughly 121,000 guestworkers into the country in 2005. According to the report, these workers are "systematically exploited and abused. Unlike U.S. citizens, guestworkers do not enjoy ... the ability to change jobs if they are mistreated. Instead, they are bound to the employers who 'import' them. If guestworkers complain about abuses, they face deportation, blacklisting or other retaliation." Miller's legislation would protect all foreign workers recruited to come to the U.S., including workers with H-2 visas.
The legislation, the "Indentured Servitude Abolition Act of 2007," holds recruiters and employers responsible for the promises they make to people they enlist, and it discourages employers from using disreputable recruiters. The legislation:
* requires employers and foreign labor contractors to inform workers of the terms and conditions of their employment at the time they are recruited;
* makes employers jointly liable for violations committed by recruiters in their employ;
* imposes heavy fines on employers and recruiters who fail to live up to their promises;
* authorizes the Secretary of Labor to take additional legal action to enforce those commitments; and
* requires the Secretary of Labor to maintain a public list of foreign labor contractors who have violated the law and to assess additional penalties if employers use a contractor on the list and that contractor contributes to a violation for which the employer may be liable.
For more than a decade, Miller has sought to end widely documented abuses - including charges of indentured servitude - of tens of thousands of foreign guest workers, mostly poor Asian women, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory. Today, Miller noted that indentured servitude in the U.S. is not limited to the Mariana Islands.
"It's hard to believe, but the fact is that this type of abuse is happening all over America. It is a violation of our most basic shared humanity, and it must be stopped," said Miller. "This legislation would end this form of indentured servitude by rigorously scrutinizing labor contracts and by imposing severe penalties on those who break the law."
The AFL-CIO, the National Employment Law Project, and the Farmworker Justice Fund have all endorsed Miller's legislation.