Abuse of Temporary Workers Demonstrates Urgent Need to Reform Immigration System

Washington, DC—Today’s national headlines revealed another example of the need for comprehensive immigration reform, says NCLR (National Council of La Raza), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. The New York Times has documented another story of the undue suffering that workers face under our broken immigration system, this time when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) advised Signal International, a marine oil rig company, to deport temporary workers protesting abusive working conditions.

“When temporary workers are not guaranteed basic protections under our labor laws, then abuse of all workers is likely,” said Clarissa Martínez De Castro, NCLR Director of Immigration and National Campaigns. “The only way to prevent more cases like this is to enact comprehensive immigration reform that levels the playing field for all workers, affords them all the same basic protections, and punishes unscrupulous employers who engage in abusive practices for the sake of profit.”

The story, “Suit Points to Guest Worker Program Flaws,” reports that ICE helped Signal International manage immigrant workers who were protesting working conditions and documents the dubious circumstances under which they were brought into the country. Signal International imported the temporary workers from India under the H2B Program to help with the repair of oil rigs after Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast in 2006.

According the story, ICE advised the company to deport workers who were being “disruptive”. The collusion came to light after depositions from Signal managers were unearthed in a federal lawsuit by the workers against the company. Carl Falstrom, an immigration lawyer not associated with the case, remarked that “private companies cannot carry out deportations.” Current ICE leadership seems to agree, and Brian Hale, an ICE spokesman, stated that “agents are generally aware that a company that fires H2B workers is prohibited from compelling individuals to get on the plane.” Both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have opened up investigations into the matter.

“The complicity between the government and business is unusual and stark in this case, but the abuse of temporary workers in all industries is well documented,” continued Martínez De Castro. “The fact that workers were being held in dangerous conditions and forced to pay recruiters astronomical fees for their jobs speaks to the urgency of enacting reform that does away with abusive programs which limit a worker’s basic rights. All workers will benefit from removing these practices from our labor markets.”