If class status is granted, the lawsuit could be the largest human trafficking case in US history, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said in a statement.
Workers were allegedly lured here with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent US residents, the statement said.
The ACLU joined a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of over 500 guest workers from India charging that the workers were trafficked into the US through the federal government's H-2B guest worker programme with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent US residents and subjected to squalid living conditions, fraudulent payment practises, and threats of serious harm upon their arrival.
The complaint alleges that recruiting agents hired by the marine industry company Signal International held the guest workers' passports and visas, coerced them into paying extraordinary fees for recruitment, immigration processing and travel, and threatened the workers with serious legal and physical harm if they did not work under the Signal-restricted guest worker visa.
The complaint also alleges that once in the US, the men were required to live in Signal's guarded, over crowded labour camps, subjected to psychological abuse and defrauded out of adequate payment for their work.
The ACLU charges that the federal government has fallen short of its responsibility to protect the rights of guest workers in this country.
According to the lawsuit, the treatment of the workers violates the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (RICO).
In addition to the federal court litigation, in partnership with the ACLU, the workers have testified before the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and senior staff at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Signal, a marine and fabrication company with shipyards in Mississippi, Texas and Alabama, is a subcontractor for several major multinational companies.