Sold an American Dream, these workers from India wound up living a nightmare

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2023-01-23 21:30:05

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2006, hundreds of welders and pipefitters were recruited from India to come to the Gulf Coast to repair oil rigs. But when they arrived in the U.S., it was nothing like what they were promised.

Labor organizer Saket Soni first heard about the situation when he received a midnight phone call from an Indian man who was too frightened to give his name. Soni is founder and director of Resilience Force, a nonprofit that advocates for workers who rebuild communities after weather disasters. He was used to fielding dozens of calls a day from workers who needed help, but this was the first Indian worker he'd ever heard from.

"I thought, 'What was an Indian worker doing in the Mississippi Gulf Coast?'" Soni recalls. "What I discovered was that he was one of 500 Indian laborers who had been lured to the U.S. on promises of good work and green cards."

The men had been convinced to pay $20,000 each — an enormous sum in India — to come to the U.S. to rebuild storm-damaged oil rigs. But instead of receiving green cards, they were issued temporary H-2B visas that bound them to a single employer. That employer — Signal International — forced them to work round-the-clock shifts and to live squalid work camps, where they were fed frozen rice and moldy bread.

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