Thirteen names are inscribed on the memorial in Sears Park, "Erected By the town of CHATHAM in memory of those that fell in the rebellion of 1861 to 1865."
They are, distantly, my townsmen and kinsmen. And they must be spinning in their graves. The town they left, to give their lives fighting for right of all free people to say "No", has embraced a system of indentured servitude. Or, as a recent report on guest worker programs by the Southern Poverty Law Center describes them, "Close to Slavery."
This is not an exaggeration. I married an H2B guest worker. I heard stories from her and her co-workers reminiscent of the Black Codes in post-Civil War Mississippi, company towns in the Industrial Revolution and serfdom in Central Europe. I was disgusted and outraged that such things would happen in modern America, and especially that it would be going on in my town. I had thought, in smug Chatham fashion, we were better than this.
The H2B process works like this. You have a business. You advertise for help. You can't find anyone to willing to work for you on a seasonal basis for what you are paying. So you go to the feds and the state, and say, "I can't get the dishwashers I need."
The bureaucrats check into it, and say, "Well, we think dishwashers in Chatham make $10 per hour, so we'll let you hire people from overseas and work for that rate. They can only work for you, no one else, and only as a dishwasher. You have to help them find a place to stay. Pay them overtime. If they quit, they have to go home immediately. If you fire them, you have to pay their way home. They can stay for up to 10 months." The cost is about $1,400 plus other fees.
To be clear: The H2B is a NON-IMMIGRANT visa. Accepting the visa means an intent to return to their residence overseas.
Kind of a funny theory, though: Increase the supply of something and the price remains the same. Also puts an employer in the position of great power.
(read the rest of the column in the Cape Cod Chronicle here)
(read Southern Poverty Law Center report "Close to Slavery: Guest Worker Programs in The United States" here)