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US 'guest workers' abused in conditions akin to slavery: rights group

[JURIST] Foreign "guest workers" in the US are being continually and severely abused, according to a report [text; press release] pointedly entitled "Close to Slavery" issued Monday by the Southern Poverty Law Center [advocacy website]. The report says that workers are frequently cheated out of wages, and must pay high fees to obtain the offered jobs. Workers have travel documents seized and held by employers, are forced to live in deplorable conditions, and are denied medical treatment for injuries on the job. Workers face potential deportation or blacklisting if they report abuses, and although federal law and US Department of Labor regulations provide guest workers protections, the government rarely enforces these measures. Affording a private attorney is nearly impossible, which leaves workers with no feasible legal recourse.

"Guest workers" are foreign unskilled workers who enter the US legally to work on a temporary basis in agricultural, forestry, and construction sector jobs. Under the currentH-2 [Labor Dept. H-2a visa regulations; H-2b visa regulations] system employers can bring in laborers, mainly from Mexico and other Latin American countries who must then work for the company that imports them, and have no legal right to change jobs. Promoting guest workers [JURIST report] has long been a central part of President Bush's immigration policy. Bush again called for a renewal and extension of the guest worker program in his 2007 State of the Union address [transcript], including the possibility of bringing millions more guest workers to the US, and Congress is currently preparing to debate appropriate legislation. The report, which offers recommendations for overhauling the program to end these abuses, was based on interviews with thousands of guest workers, a review of the research on guest worker programs, many legal cases, and counsel by legal experts. AP has more.

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