January 30, 2013

Immigration law would expand indentured servitude

Michael Lind, Salon - The outlines of a bipartisan plan for immigration reform have been announced by a group of senators. While most of its provisions are reasonable — a path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants, increased skilled immigration and increased law enforcement — one provision stinks to high heaven and should be rejected by Americans of left, right and center. That provision is a massive, special-interest-driven expansion of indentured servitude in the United States, in the form of a new “guest-worker program.” (President Obama, while hailing the plan in general on Tuesday, has not weighed in on the specifics of the guest-worker program.)

Indentured servitude or contract labor, like slavery, is a form of unfree labor. Unfortunately, the U.S., having abolished slavery, still has pockets of indentured servant labor. Whether relatively well-paid, like many highly educated H-1B workers, or poorly paid, like many H-2A agricultural workers, indentured servants are, in effect, indentured serfs. Because their presence in the U.S. is dependent on their employment by a particular employer, they cannot quit and are motivated to appease their employer, no matter how brutally they are exploited. If they protest maltreatment, they can be fired and forced to return to their home countries.

Many indentured servants also are compelled to pay exorbitant amounts of their salaries to contractors who act as intermediaries between them and their sponsor employers, like the notorious “body shops” that exploit many H-1b workers.

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