by Lesley Eischen
This is the sixth article in a series on human trafficking.
“…to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”
In May of 2008, Iowa was home to the largest criminal worksite enforcement operations in U.S. history. The aspects of the case were nothing short of convoluted, with more twists and turns than an amusement park roller coaster. Its ramifications affected not only the immediate community deeply but even communities outside the boarders of the United States. The company was cited for issues involving animal treatment, food safety, environmental safety, child labor, and hiring of illegal workers. When the dust settled the CEO would be convicted of eighty six counts of financial fraud, including bank fraud, mail and wire fraud and money laundering. His penalty includes twenty seven years imprisonment and twenty seven million dollars in restitution.
In a separate trial the CEO would face child labor charges and would eventually be acquitted of all charges. However, by this time, the company had been purchased by another owner and as a corporation, entered a guilty plea to eighty three child labor charges and the plant′s human resources manager pleaded to state child labor charges under an agreement with the state. State child law charges are still pending against the former supervisor. Nearly four hundred illegal immigrants who worked in the plant, most of them from Guatemala, served federal prison sentences of up to five months for identity theft and were deported. Forty one of the former workers were allowed to remain in the United States on the approval to receive a special visa, known as a U-visa, which is granted to victims of violent abuse. The workers showed that they had been struck by managers or sexually assaulted while working at the company.
This case demonstrates the relationship between human trafficking, minor exploitation and illegal immigration. All in all, two hundred and ninety seven people were convicted and sentenced. In response, Iowa passed a law making it easier to convict employers who hire child laborers with increasing penalties.
July 29th, 2010 in Des Moines, Iowa a Mexican foreign national was convicted of unlawfully transporting illegal aliens which resulted in the death of a passenger in his vehicle. According to testimony, the driver had transported ten other illegal aliens by van to Iowa from Phoenix, Arizona. Passengers in the van testified that after walking through Mexico for three days they were smuggled into the United States as part of a larger group. Each smuggled individual was required to pay a two thousand dollar smuggling fee prior to being driven to a stash house in Phoenix. They would then be transported to Iowa. While in Iowa, the driver ran a stop sign and the van was struck broadside, resulting in the death of a female passenger.
The United States has become a destination country for trafficking. Foreign nationals are transported and smuggled into the United States for the purpose of exploitation. It’s estimated that eighteen thousand foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. Predominately, although not exclusively, the majority of the victims are transported to the United States from Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.
While illegal smuggling is generally initiated by consent and is often riddled with danger and degrading conditions is does not necessitate trafficking unless consent was never present and/or ongoing exploitation from which profits are derived. Illegal smuggling is always transnational, whereas trafficking can occur anywhere. The distinction between trafficking and smuggling are often subtle and intertwined. When individuals initially agree to be smuggled illegally into the United States it does not preclude them from being victimized by traffickers. An example would be the fee mandate to be illegally smuggled. From the onset, the trafficker is making money through illicit activities. If the person being illegally smuggled can’t afford the fee, the trafficker may force them to work for low wages or none at all to pay for the transportation. This is called debt bondage. Trafficking only escalates from this point. It is important to understand that the work of the smugglers often benefits traffickers and allows them to flourish. Illegal immigration and smuggling places individuals at a high risk for being trafficked. Illegal immigration is a conduit for the illicit activities of human trafficking. The same transnational criminal organizations that traffic weapons and narcotics also traffic people. These routes need shut down to protect victims from trafficking and violations of national security. To combat labor and other types of trafficking, illegal immigration and migrant smuggling is a priority that needs addressed.
Labor trafficking is enslavement where victims perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Labor trafficking includes situations of debt bondage, servitude debts, forced labor, and involuntary child labor.
Many of the victims are lured with false promises of employment and find themselves instead forced or coerced into situations of agricultural farming, domestic servitude, domestic brothels and prostitution, sweat shops, massage parlors, factory labor or other types of forced labor. Some victims are forced over borders illegally to satisfy debt bondage and servitude debts.
Victims often find themselves in a foreign country unable to speak the language. It’s common for traffickers to confiscate any form of the victim’s identification to ensure control. Traffickers won’t hesitate to use a victim’s immigration status as leverage for compliance. Victims are threatened that if they attempt to escape they will be harmed, their families harmed or the victims’ families will assume the debt. Labor trafficking victims face violence, inhumane conditions, and long hours with little to no pay.
Victims of labor trafficking in agriculture have been found among migrant and seasonal farm workers, including men, women, families, or children. They harvest crops and raise animals in fields, packing plants, orchards, and nurseries. Agricultural work is often isolated and transient. Traffickers exploit these conditions of vulnerability, adding debt, violence and threats to hold farm workers in conditions of servitude.
Victims of domestic servitude perform work within their employers’ households, such as cooking, cleaning, child-care, elder care, gardening and other household work. Victims of domestic servitude in the U.S. are most often foreign national women with or without documentation living in the home of their employer. Victims of domestic servitude often work ten to sixteen hours a day with little to no pay.
Traffickers often exploit the victim’s unfamiliarity with the language, laws, and customs of the U.S. In addition, traffickers level physical, verbal and even sexual abuse to create a climate of fear.
Victims of labor trafficking may be found in hostess clubs and strip clubs in the United States. These situations force the victims to dance, serve as hostesses, or sell food and drinks. Most of the victims tend to be adult women but minors are also exploited. These women are forced to strip, dance, or entertain patrons for long hours with limited control over their own lives.
Victims of labor trafficking in the restaurant or food industry are forced to work as waiters, bussers, kitchen staff, and cooks with little to no pay. They may experience erratic working hours or long hours.
Control is increased in situations where the workers live in employer-provided housing or in the restaurant itself.
Labor trafficking in manufacturing has been known to occur in the garment industry and in food processing plants in the United States. Victims are forced to work ten to twelve hour days, and up to seven days per week with little or no breaks. People may be trafficked into garment industry jobs such as sewing, assembling, pressing, or packing apparel. Others may be forced to work in food processing operations that include slaughtering, preserving, canning and packing goods for distribution.
Victims have been found in sales crews or peddling and begging rings, where they work long hours each day soliciting money or selling products such as magazine subscriptions, trinkets, or cleaning products.
The controller or manager confiscates all or most of the victim’s earnings and the victims may be dependent on the controller for transportation and housing.
Sales crews typically recruit U.S. citizen youth between the ages of eighteen and twenty five years of age and sometimes younger. The traffickers promise travel and the ability to make a lot of money. A “crew” consists of varying number of youth, under the direction of a manager, who moves the crew from city to city every few weeks. Crew members receive a small daily stipend of fifteen dollars or less to cover the cost of meals and personal items. Violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, pressure tactics, and abandonment in unfamiliar cities are common.
Labor trafficking in the hospitality industry, like motels, is a prime location for trafficking victims to be forced into prostitution. Motel employees may also be trafficking victims. Victims may be found working against their will in hotels or motels for long hours with little or to pay. They may work as room attendants, front desk clerks, in the kitchen or restaurant, as servers or bell staff; in marketing, in casinos or in any other service offered by a hotel. The trafficker may be the hotel management or a recruiter that subcontracts with the hotel to provide a labor supply. If the trafficker is a contractor, the hotel may or may not be aware of the abuse.
Victims of trafficking may be found in any industry with a demand for cheap labor and a lack of accountability. Victims are forced to work in exploitative conditions with little to no pay. They can be found in forestry, landscaping, construction, carnivals, tourism and entertainment, elder-care facilities, gas stations, nail salons, hair braiding salons, and other small businesses.
Victims of labor trafficking in any of these circumstances may include adults and minors who are U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, or immigrant workers, both documented and undocumented, and foreign nationals with temporary or specific work visas.
A situation becomes labor trafficking when the employer uses force, fraud or coercion to maintain control over the worker and to cause the worker to believe that he or she has no other choice but to continue with the work.
Indications, although not exhaustive or exclusively indicative, that a person is a victim of labor trafficking may include the following:
- Doesn’t have access to money, cell phone, food, clothing or identification. These items are held as collateral by trafficker
- Residency is a hotel or motel
- Does not receive payment for services rendered
- Labors long, excessive or unusual hours
- Not allowed breaks
- Seemingly disallowed to venture out on their own or speak for themselves
- Vehicles with a large number of individuals who come and go together
- Uncertain of their whereabouts – unable to provide what city they are in or where they live
What to do if you suspect someone is being trafficked:
If the situation is imminent, call 911.
If there is no immediate threat, call the non-emergency number 311.
Call your local anti-human trafficking organization. In Iowa call, CRTEC HOTLINE at 1-(877)-824-9747
Or for more information or to report suspected activity, contact U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE
Lesley Eischen is a pro-life activist and advocate for women who lives in Central Iowa. This is the fifth article in an expose of human trafficking in her state.