WASHINGTON– The AFL-CIO and 17 other labor groups unveiled a new report Tuesday raising concerns about abuses in worker recruitment practices worldwide, an issue often overlooked by immigration reform proposals.
Taking place an hour before the House Judiciary Committee’s first immigration hearing of the year, the labor group news conferencefeatured personal stories from three workers recounting incidents of alleged exploitation and infringement of human rights.
One man with an H-2B seasonal worker visa said he earned less than $3 per hour at a carnival after his contractor had promised a salary of $250 per week. Another worker, a hospitality industry-trained college student on the J-1 exchange visitor visa, said American recruiters lured her through a false academic program to be a hotel worker in spite of her higher expertise.
“I was interested in professional training to become a manager, and to get the job, I invested $4,500 — which in my country is a year of work,” said Fernanda Defaz, an Ecuador native who worked in a Myrtle Beach hotel, “But when I came to the U.S., I found I was mopping, sweeping and pushing heavy objects.”
Titled “The American Dream Up for Sale: a blueprint for ending international labor recruitment abuse,” 50-page report provides guidelines for immigration reform in addition to citing the flaws in the current worker recruitment system, including a lack of oversight.
A self-described “moderate” proposal, the report lists recommendations for workers, employers and the government for avoiding common recruitment abuses, such as withholding information and economic coercion. The main purpose of the report is to highlight these concerns for U.S. lawmakers, said Rachel Micah-Jones, the conference spokeswoman.
“The immigration guidelines now don’t nearly shed enough attention on labor recruitment abuse,” Micah-Jones said. “We want Congress and the president to take notice of these concerns.”
According to the report, it’s often difficult for immigrant workers to walk away from a job with poor conditions, especially when recruiters are likely to withhold their documentation and require them to sign disadvantageous contracts.
“The abuses are systematic—it isn’t just one industry or one recruiter,” said AFL-CIO representative Ava Avendaño. “Some parts of the system are completely unregulated and some parts are policies and regulations inaccessible to most workers.”
Ira Melhman, media director of the anti-immigration organization, Federation for American Immigration Reform, said before the government can deal with abuses, there should be fewer labor recruitment programs.
“And immigration reform would only make it worse,” Melhman said. “We need some connection with the labor market reality, and that is we continue to take in a large number of guest workers in spite of a historically high rate of unemployment.”
Last week, a group of senators – dubbed the Gang of Eight – offered a bipartisan proposal for immigration reform. In his recent speech in Las Vegas, President Obama also voiced his support for reform, as detailed in his White House proposal. Both legislative frameworks specifically address the issues of border security, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants and retaining foreign math and science graduates from American universities.
The International Labor Recruitment Working Group plans to distribute the report and brief the findings to Congressmen.