Indian human trafficking survivors tear up guest worker visas at White House rally – 3/21/08
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Indian human trafficking survivors tear up guest worker visas at White House rally,
demand Congressional investigation of US employer
WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, March 31, nearly 100 Indian satyagrahis who broke a human trafficking chain earlier this month marched to the White House and tore up copies of their H2B visas in a symbolic rejection of the guest worker program used to traffic them to the US—a program President George W. Bush is eager to expand.
Chanting “All the way to the White House!” and “We want justice!” the satyagrahis gathered at the White House gates under rainy skies and demanded a Congressional investigation of their former employer Signal International, a marine construction company that held them in forced labor and is already the subject of a criminal human trafficking investigation by the Department of Justice.
“The company took away our hopes and dreams and shattered us mentally,” said Sony Suleka, an organizer with the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity and a former Signal worker. “Now we are asking the esteemed US government to investigate Signal and put an end to this system of modern-day slavery.”
Sunita Gupta, national director of Jobs With Justice, one of the workers’ many US allies, said: “We are standing in solidarity with these workers and asking the White House and Congress for a real investigation of Signal International, as well as a just immigration system that does not link the US economy to exploitable foreign workers while displacing poor and working-class American workers.”
The satyagrahis are part of a group of over 500 Indian welders and pipe fitters who paid approximately $20,000 apiece to US and Indian recruiters for false promises of permanent residency in the US. Instead they were held in forced labor by Northrop Grumman subcontractor Signal International on ten-month temporary H2B guest worker visas in Gulf Coast shipyards under deplorable conditions. The Department of Justice has opened a human trafficking investigation into the case, and US Congressman George Miller has demanding detailed documentation about the case from Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.
The action at the White House kicked off a week of meetings the workers will hold with Congressional members and staff, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
“It’s time that US Congress understood that US companies are using this guest worker program as a legal sanction for forced labor,” said Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, which helped the workers organize. “Signal’s abuses reveal the ugly reality of the US guest worker program.”
The workers arrived in DC on Wednesday after a nine-day journey from New Orleans that saw a surge in support from clergy, organized labor and African American community leaders.