They have initiated class action lawsuit for human trafficking

Over 500 Indian citizens who were brought to the United States to work in shipyards, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, have initiated what might well become the largest class action lawsuit for human trafficking in U.S. history.

According to a statement by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has joined in the lawsuit in support of the plaintiffs, the workers were trafficked into the U.S. through the federal government's H-2B guest-worker scheme “with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent U.S. residents and subjected to squalid living conditions, fraudulent payment practices, and threats of serious harm upon their arrival.”

The court filing by the plaintiffs alleges that recruiting agents employed by the marine industry company Signal International withheld the guest-workers' passports, forced them to pay exorbitant fees for recruitment, immigration processing and travel, and threatened the workers with serious legal and physical consequences if they did not abide by restrictive employment conditions imposed by the company.

Psychological abuse

Further, the complaint against Signal International alleges that after they arrived in the U.S., the men were compelled to live in the company's “guarded, overcrowded labour camps, subjected to psychological abuse and defrauded out of adequate payment for their work.”

In a statement, the ACLU said it was also charging the federal government with falling short of its responsibility to protect the rights of guest-workers in the country. According to the lawsuit that it filed along with the workers, the treatment of the workers violated the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

In comments made to the ACLU, Kurian David, a class representative in the lawsuit, said: “We hope the court will give us all a chance to make our voices heard and to right the wrongs that were done against us. Signal and the other defendants should be held accountable for what they did to so many guest-workers who worked for them.”

Further, the ACLU quoted Murugan Kandhasamy, a class representative in the lawsuit, as saying: “I speak on behalf of hundreds of Indian guest-workers 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.”

An ACLU Human Rights Programme attorney, Chandra Bhatnagar, noted that the workers had been “victimised by systemic deficiencies in the U.S. guest-worker program and subjected to trafficking and racketeering at the hands of the defendants,” adding that they would be seeking to assert their fundamental human rights.