Alex Penwill, a 2014 International Organization Administration MA candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, recently published an article in the 2013 Journal of Public and International Affairs titled "H-2A Guestworker Visa Program: Facilitator of Exploitation and Labor Trafficking in the U.S. Ranching Industry." Penwill's studies focus on Latin America, technology and sustainable development, and market-based social enterprises. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Born out of the Bracero system of the post-World War II era, today's H-2A guestworker visa program facilitates the exploitation of foreign sheep, goat, and cattle herders in the United States by binding them to a single employer, subjecting them to labor abuses, and exempting them from legal protections provided to other workers. In some cases, guestworker maltreatment escalates from exploitation to criminal abuse. As comprehensive immigration reform comes to the forefront of the American political agenda, it is more crucial than ever to take a hard look at the H-2A visa system. This article examines the legislative history of the H-2A ranching program, its exemptions from federal labor laws and other protections, and the abuse guestworkers suffer as a result. The article argues that, in some cases, this abuse rises to the level of human trafﬁcking, debt bondage, forced labor, and indentured servitude—serious violations of national and international law. Finally, the article makes policy recommendations for reforming the H-2A program and amending state labor codes to fortify America's commitment to human rights and equal justice.