Indian Workers March for Justice in the US
100 Indian Guest Workers Launch Eight-Day ‘Journey of Justice’
Through Deep South
Defy Racism in Walk from New Orleans to DC After Breaking Human
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – At 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 18, over 100 Indian
guest workers who rocked the Indian political scene by breaking a
US-Indian human trafficking chain launched a risky eight-day journey,
largely on foot, from New Orleans to Washington, DC, to demand an
end to abuses of the H2B guest worker program.
The workers, members of the New Orleans-based Alliance of Guestworkers
for Dignity, will defy racism as they literally walk in the footsteps
of US civil rights leaders to demand a mass meeting in DC with Indian
Ambassador Ronen Sen, whom they excoriated in a letter late Monday
for abandoning them.
“Our own government has turned its back on us after we were treated
like slaves,” said Sabulal Vijayan, one of over 500 Indian workers
who were bound as forced labor to Gulf Coast marine construction company
Signal International, as the group began their journey with a rally
at the Department of Labor building in New Orleans. The workers paid
$20,000 to Indian and US recruiters for false promises of work-based
permanent residency in the US, and instead the workers received ten-month
H2B guest worker visas and worked at Signal in deplorable conditions.
“This guest worker program held me captive in the United States while
my father died in India without me by his side. I don’t want compensation
for my loss—I want justice for the migrant workers who come after
me,” said former Signal worker Paul Konar.
The workers will meet with their growing network of supporters and
allies as they travel through key sites of the US civil rights struggle,
including Jackson, Mississippi; Selma, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia;
and Greensboro, North Carolina. Their experiences will be detailed
in a text and photo blog at www.neworleansworkerjustice.org. They
will arrive in DC on March 26 as Congress prepares for a session in
which a massive expansion of the guest worker program is at the top
of the agenda.
The workers received widespread national coverage in the US and raised
a firestorm in the Indian media when they walked out on Mar. 6 from
Signal and demanded federal prosecution of the company and its US
and Indian recruiters. The Department of Justice has since opened
an official investigation into the workers’ charges of human trafficking,
and the workers have filed a federal class-action lawsuit against
The group sent a list of demands to Ambassador Sen late Monday in
a letter that blasted him for failing to respond to their request
for a meeting for seven days. The demands they said they would discuss
with him in DC on March 26 included pressure on the US Department
of State to restrict travel to India for Signal’s US recruiters, as
well as pressure on the US government to halt any expansion of the
guest worker program until both governments have adopted an agreement
that reflects the interests of workers, as well as companies and recruiters.
“What happened to these workers wasn’t the exception—it was the rule,”
said Tracie Washington, an attorney from the Louisiana Justice Project
and a member of the workers’ legal team. “While hundreds of thousands
of African-American workers were locked out of the reconstruction
of the Gulf Coast, the guest worker program has locked workers like
“These workers want the same thing Americans want: a just immigration
system that does not bind the US economy to exploitable foreign workers
while displacing poor and working-class American workers,” said Saket
Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice.
“It’s time for Congress to wake up to the fact that the guest worker
program is a path to an American nightmare.”
Contact: Stephen Boykewich, +1-504-655-0876, email@example.com
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