A BuzzFeed News investigation — based on government databases and investigative files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, thousands of court documents, as well as more than 80 interviews with workers and employers — shows that the program condemns thousands of employees each year to exploitation and mistreatment, often in plain view of government officials charged with protecting them. All across America, H-2 guest workers complain that they have been cheated out of their wages, threatened with guns, beaten, raped, starved, and imprisoned. Some have even died on the job. Yet employers rarely face any significant consequences.
Many of those employers have since been approved to bring in more guest workers. Some have even been rewarded with lucrative government contracts. Almost none have ever been charged with a crime.
In interview after interview, current and former guest workers — often on the verge of tears — used the same word to describe their experiences: slavery.
Jessica Garrison, Ken Bensinger, Jeremy Singer-VineWe live where we work, and we can’t leave, said Olivia Guzman Garfias, who has been coming to Louisiana as a guest worker from her small town in Mexico since 1997.We are tied to the company. Our visas are in the company’s name. If the pay and working conditions aren’t as we wish, who can we complain to? We are like modern-day slaves.
The American Dream is no longer what it used to be…
We make lots of plans; we think this is the thing that is going to change our lives for the better. We have so many illusions about what it’s going to be like, she said. And then when it’s not,you get desperate. You feel like there won’t be any more opportunities. You so badly want to go home but not like this, not like a failure. It’s not just your dreams and your illusions. It’s your mom and dad, your kids:but thenOh my mom is going to bring me this thing,having to come back with empty hands.