Image: Signal International
After Hurricane Katrina, Signal International lost a lot of its workforce. To fill in the newly missing spots, it had a recruiter to import workers from India: workers who were told they'd come to America for a great job and be given permanent residency for themselves and their families—in exchange for a $20,000 recruitment fee to cover travel costs, visa, etc.
That was how about 500 workers made their way (though the amount of the fee varied) to the U.S. to work for Signal, a company that had a contract with BP to "decontaminate numerous tank barge vessels utilized in the Offshore drill rig Horizon oil spill," in addition to being a subcontractor for global defense company Northrop Grumman Corp. When the workers arrived however, they received temporary guestworker visas instead and were forced to live in fenced labor camps: in trailers with up to 24 men each (and two toilets), for which they had to pay $1,050 in rent.A coalition of human rights groups is now suing Signal International on behalf of these Indian guestworkers for human trafficking and racketeering
"These workers only wanted the American dream but instead were bound to an abusive employer and forced to endure horrific conditions," said Daniel Werner, Deputy Legal Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the organizations filing the suit.
The original suit included seven individuals, but the groups filing now seek to include the approximately 500 former guestworkers who endured similar conditions—if the judge approves the request, it could become the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history.
Murugan Kandhasamy, a class representative in the lawsuit, said: "I speak on behalf of hundreds of Indian guestworkers subjected to abuse by Signal and its co-conspirators. We came to America for good jobs and opportunity, which we were denied, and now we are asking for justice."
"After being treated as disposable workers, these Indian guestworkers are entitled to seek justice for their wholesale mistreatment. They toiled under a climate of fear and coercion and deserve their day in court," said Ivy Suriyopas, staff attorney the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
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