H2B Guest Workers, A Closer Look

Lindsay Beyerstein and Larisa Alexandrovna report on some H2B guest workers in the Gulf Coast, in the Raw Story.

A month ago Monday, a group of guest workers from India placed a frantic 3:00 am phone call to Saket Soni, lead organizer for the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. The workers said that armed security guards were holding some workers prisoner in the TV room of the Signal International Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the company’s 290 welders and pipe fitters live.

The men told Soni that Signal International – a sub-contractor for mammoth defense contractor Northrop Grumman – had staged a pre-dawn raid and that six Indian workers had been detained in the “TV room,” flanked by security guards, one of whom carried a gun. About 200 other Indian employees at Signal were standing outside the room.

Signal says they detained the guest workers at the advice of US immigration officials, in an attempt to forcibly deport them following a labor dispute. Though the workers were later released into the custody of community groups, the incident has shed light on a longstanding immigration problem – the vulnerability of guest workers who travel to the United States on H-2B visas, and their exploitation at the hands of so-called “recruiters” and the companies they work for.

Indian workers Joseph Jacob and Sabu Lal believe the Mar. 9 raid was initiated as Signal’s reaction to worker complaints, while the company says the workers were fired for performance-related issues.

But the bigger story is in the details: These 290 Indians paid upwards of $15,000 each to travel to America, lured by the promises of a Mississippi sheriff’s deputy.