dock workers in US allege surveillance
New York, March 25, 2008 (IANS)
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.