Saturday, January 03, 2009

The following story and appeal is from the AFL-CIO Blog. It's a story of treachery and also of the human capacity to endure. It's the story of guestworkers lured to the USA with false promises and finding slave labour conditions. It's the story of men who escaped, found jobs in North Dakota and were once again victimized by the USA government which has arrested them and holds them in detention. Read the following, and respond to thge appeal to petition for their release.

Rep. Ellison Joins Faith and Labor Leaders in Urging Release of Jailed Workers:

Barb Kucera, editor of Workday Minnesota, follows up on the Indian guest workers who this past spring and summer waged a hunger strike for justice. The welders and pipe fitters had been lured from their native India to the United States with promises of green cards and good jobs at Signal International’s shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. Once there, they found themselves held in modern-day forced labor, victims of a human-trafficking scheme under the guise of the H-2B guest worker program. Now, 23 of the workers have been jailed by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Community leaders in Minnesota—including Congressman Keith Ellison and the Rev. Craig Johnson, bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—issued a call for the release of 23 workers from India held in the Fargo, N.D., jail by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

At the news conference, Johnson told a group gathered in front of the U.S. Federal Building in downtown Minneapolis:

"It is important that people of faith stand in solidarity with those among us who have been wrongly accused. "

Ellison called the situation perverse.

"It’s unjust, it’s wrong and we’re not going to stand silent while it goes on."

He and other faith leaders joined in a 24-hour fast to show solidarity. They also contacted the U.S. Department of Justice to urge the workers’ release and an investigation of Signal International.

“To Signal International, we say, ’shame on you!’” said Ray Waldron, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

(You can take action by sending an e-mail to members to Congress through the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ), here.)

Saket Soni of the NOWCRJ said many of the 300 workers sold homes or property to make the trip and paid $20,000 each to a recruiter. In the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of immigrants were lured to the Gulf Coast with such promises, Soni said.

When they arrived, they discovered squalid living conditions. After they tried to form a union to improve their lot, they were threatened with deportation, said Soni.

Some of the workers contacted NOWCRJ, which helped them report the situation to the Justice Department. But the department is dragging its feet on investigating the case, while some of the workers have been swept up in immigration raids.

The workers, who entered the country with guest worker visas, are really victims of human trafficking, said Soni. Earlier this year, the men marched on foot from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., to urge the Justice Department to investigate the case and to allow them “continued presence,” a temporary visa status that allows victims of trafficking to work in the country while the investigation is still ongoing.

Some of the workers later got jobs in North Dakota, where they were picked up by immigration officials and have been held for nearly two months. The workers at the Fargo jail are currently engaged in a hunger strike.

Ellison said the workers’ plight might seem far-removed from the lives of most Americans, but their case has implications for everyone.

"When these workers are exploited in this manner, this diminishes all labor. This exploits all labor."

In a statement, Signal International said the company’s employment practices and facilities have been inspected by representatives of the Department of Labor, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of State.

The news conference was coordinated by ISAIAH, a Twin Cities faith organization. Several of its members participated in the solidarity fast, the organization said.

Faith and community groups also have held rallies in Fargo to support the jailed workers. Supporters are urging people to contact Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, which oversee the Department of Justice.

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