Indentured Guests - How the H-2A and H-2B Temporary Guest Worker Programs Create the Conditions for Indentured Servitude and Why Upfront Reimbursement for Guest Workers' Transportation, Visa and Recruitment Costs is the Solution
Bryce W. Ashby
In mid-August of 2006, the Southern Poverty Law Center ("SPLC") filed suit on behalf of over eighty guest workers from Bolivia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic against a prominent New Orleans hotel owner alleging that his failure to reimburse workers' travel costs to New Orleans from their respective home countries pushed their wages below the legal federal minimum wage and effectively locked them into a state of de-facto debt peonage. 1 The circumstances that led to this suit arose after Hurricane Katrina when Decatur Hotels, owned by Patrick Quinn, certified with the U.S. Department of Labor that it could not find sufficient domestic workers in the New Orleans region and requested H-2B temporary guest workers to fill the open positions. 2 The Department of Labor granted the immigrant workers visas, and an estimated 300 Caribbean and South American workers came to New Orleans. 3 These workers, though professionals in their home countries, left with the understanding that they would have a nine-month contract, be paid between $ 6.02 and $ 7.79 an hour for a forty-hour week, and have the opportunity to earn substantial overtime pay. 4 In order to make the trip to the United States under the H-2B program, these guest workers borrowed large sums of money, reportedly between $ 3500 and $ 5000.
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