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How to Effectively Enslave a Person in the US: Labor Trafficking Edition

In 5 easy steps:

  1. Become a company eligible for H-2A and H-2B migrant worker visas and hire a contractor as a recruiter

  2. Recruit in areas where poverty is high, education is low, or a natural disaster has put many people out of work. Let them know you will cover all of the visa and travel fees

  3. Once arriving in the US, change the script: Withhold their documents, let them know that they owe you for all the fees, deter them from contacting authorities by convincing them that all US law enforcement representatives are corrupt

  4. Force them to work 7 days a week, offer no food, no healthcare, keep all of the wages to pay for aforementioned fees along with rent which is often a bed or a floor shared with many others who have been lied to and threatened as well

  5. Deny the enslaved workers a T Visa and arrest them for immigration violations instead, forcing them to choose between a criminal record, retaliation from contractor, threats to family in home country, or remaining enslaved

H-2A and H-2B guest worker visas allow for temporary or seasonal workers to come to the US to fill vacancies not filled by US citizens and residents. H-2A visas fill seasonal agricultural roles and many of these visa holders come from Mexico and other Central American countries, legally, with a visa. H-2B visas fill non-agricultural work such as au Pairs, hospitality, construction, carnival work, and camps. Note that most, over 70%, of known labor trafficking victims came here with a legal right to do so.

Recruiters looking to exploit vulnerabilities will go where language and cultural barriers are difficult to bridge and education is limited. This ensures that once a visa-holder is here the likelihood that they would know how to get help is very low. The promise of an income to help with family or the opportunity to work in the US, along with the claim that all travel, immigration and recruiting fees will be covered, make it an easy arrangement to agree to.

Once in the US, the victim has very little advocacy. Any healthcare or legal arrangements required are on the part of the visa sponsor. When they arrive, the sponsor will abscond all travel documents until all the travel and visa fees are paid. A condition of these guest worker visas is restricted portability meaning that they are tied to that sponsor for the duration of the visa status, which is typically 3-6months. Invariably the victim cannot pay off any debt within the three months, nor will the sponsor return the documents to the victim to reach out for help. This puts them in violation of their visa, and they are told that if they go for help either 1.) the police are corrupt or 2.) they will be arrested for missing or expired documents and then deported. There is ample evidence from their home country and the DHS to support this claim and make it too frightening or risky to attempt reaching out for help.

Work conditions then violate every labor law. Victims are often forced to work 7 days a week up to 18 hours a day, and never handle their own wages until they have been garnished by their trafficker. They have no freedom of movement nor independent housing, and food and housing costs come out of any earnings on top of the fees. Imagining the not-so-competitive rates of migrant farm labor, domestic house work, or hotel grounds maintenance, you can see how the debt will grow and freedom from the trafficker remains elusive. Note that housing is more often than not substandard and unhealthy, without heat or blankets in the winter nor AC in the sweltering heat of summer. They are left with some food rations on occasion, or maybe even none at all.

T Visa protections have been halted. T Visas, a visa specifically for foreign national victims of human trafficking when they agree to act as a witness to prosecute companies and their contractors, were already difficult to obtain. Inexplicably, in the last year, a moratorium has been implemented on the approval of all T visas. Instead, when foreign nationals with an expired visa (as a result of exploitative practices by the sponsor) apply for a T visa with the support of an attorney are instead given the Notice to Appear, meaning immigration court, for arrest and deportation.

By most expert accounts, labor trafficking accounts for at least 50% of all human trafficking victimization in the US. Why do we not see more stories about it?

Theories include:

  • Unlike sex trafficking victims, they rarely come in contact with the public and they are hard to identify

  • We conflate illegal immigration with foreign national victims of trafficking. NOTE: Smuggling IS NOT trafficking, smuggling is a crime against a border, trafficking is a crime against a human. Remember, 70% or more of the foreign national victims of labor or sex trafficking came here with a legal work visa, and then under conditions of Force, Fraud or Coercion end up in situations out of their control with no legal protections whatsoever, because our system is set up that way

  • Foreign national victims of labor and sex trafficking in the US do not reflect the "model victim" -- meaning white or a child. Therefore we do not weep as loudly, if at all, for their suffering at our own hands

  • The moratorium on the issuing of T Visas means the victim has no chance to implicate the US companies profiting from this practice, cases are not being reported as human trafficking but as illegal immigration instead

  • Lack of coordination and collaboration amongst intervening agencies along with its low priority for investigation by local and federal law enforcement

  • Fear of immigration arrest by DHS or of retaliation by sponsor, so most victims escape on their own and try to survive without social services assistance. NOTE: I know some of you are thinking, isn't this what they wanted the whole time, a backdoor entry to living in the US? The majority of foreign national human trafficking victims of labor and sex trafficking have family, including children, they need to support in the short term and a desire to be reunited. The conditions under which they were enslaved include factors of force, fraud and coercion to include physical threats against family. The brutal physical and emotional conditions under which these victims were subjected are inexcusable and antithetical to what we purport to be American values

In summary, if you want to enslave a person in the US, prey on the vulnerable from other countries who are guilty of nothing but wanting to feed themselves and their family and believing in the sanctity of US justice (same as what we want, right?), exploit both the person and existing laws that enable the practice and protect the perpetrator, and turn the other way when you see a foreigner who looks poor, uneducated, and afraid, they must be gaming the system, right?

But ask yourself, who is really playing the game, at the expense of human lives and dignity? When we trade humanity for economy we will sure be on the losing end of a incivil society.

And if you want to see how many slaves work for you worldwide, go here


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