Indian workers in US allege surveillance

March 25th, 2008 - 10:08 pm ICT by admin  

New York, March 25 (IANS) Nearly 100 Indian workers who broke an alleged human trafficking racket and are marching from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., to meet the Indian ambassador, have alleged surveillance by US immigration authorities. The workers who quit Signal International’s shipyard at Pascagoula, Mississippi, earlier this month and filed a class action suit against their employer and recruiters, say they have faced surveillance and harassment by immigration officials since the beginning of their “satyagraha” march last Tuesday.

According to their press release, they saw a suspicious man photographing them Friday as they left the Civil Rights Memorial Centre in Montgomery, Alabama.

When confronted, he turned aggressive and refused to identify himself. A member of the surveillance team of the US Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) later identified the man as an ICE agent, the release said.

A third man, who identified himself as head of Alabama ICE, Mickey Pledger, suggested that the workers had been under covert surveillance from the start of their march. “Just because you don’t see us doesn’t mean we haven’t been there.”

Objecting to the surveillance, Hemunt Khuttan, one of the workers, said: “Our satyagraha is not an immigration issue. It is a fight for human rights.”

Commented Saket Soni, director of New Orleans Workers’ Centre for Racial Justice that is helping the workers: “Alabama ICE’s attempt to intimidate human trafficking survivors is unconscionable. We expect Ambassador Ronen Sen to ask US immigration authorities to call off the secret surveillance.”

When the workers reach Washington, D.C., later in the week, Sen has agreed to meet them to see how their legitimate grievances and concerns could be addressed.

Among the workers’ demands is high-level talks between the US and Indian governments on a bilateral labour agreement that will end abuses of the guest worker programme in the US.

The 100 workers belong to a group of about 500 Indian welders and pipe fitters, who each allegedly paid $20,000 to US and Indian recruiters on false promises of permanent residency in the US, and instead were forced to work for Signal on 10-month temporary H2B guest worker visas in Gulf Coast shipyards under deplorable conditions.

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