Lindsay Van Dyke
The U.S. Guestworker program draws over 100,000 workers annually, 80% of them from Mexico, to work in diverse industries including agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and hospitality. Though the federal government guarantees wage and work standards, many workers are charged illegal fees by labor recruiters, tricked into forced labor, or cheated of wages, hours, or working conditions.
Still, the Guestworker program supports many families and communities in Mexico that depend on reliable work and wages higher than those at home. But with unemployment high in many parts of the United States, American workers complain that companies take advantage of the program, particularly for jobs in construction, landscaping, and steelworking, by hiring workers who are willing to work for less, easier to control, and afraid to complain. Though employers can only legally hire guest workers if the local labor pool is lacking, some have been documented scheduling job interviews on minimally accessible dates such as Christmas Eve, or posting job openings where American workers are unlikely to find them.
At the root of larger, fiercely debated questions about immigration policy and foreign workers in the United States are the personal stories of foreign and American workers. In the film, we meet such workers as Adarely, a young single woman who has had both positive and fraudulent experiences picking crab meat in Louisiana; Jesus, a Mexican farmer and father of eight who had a devastating experience with labor fraud; and Erika, an entrepreneur who launched a small business in Mexico with proceeds from guest work. These people and their American counterparts are the focus of the film. GUEST also profiles employers and immigration scholars to illuminate the value of this program for all stakeholders. Finally, we bring an American family as “guests” to engage with Mexican guest workers in their own country, allowing them to experience firsthand a culture often mischaracterized in the United States.
The Guestworker program purports to provide work for those willing to work and workers for employers who need them. But, whom does it really serve? Could it work more humanely, or is it inherently flawed? What struggles, hopes, and rights to opportunity do people on both sides share? What answers can those most closely involved provide for the future?