Last week, Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado, Jr. of Florida, owners of a labor contracting service, plead guilty to what amounted to modern day slavery. Thirty-nine Filipinos were enticed to immigrate to the US as guest workers (H-2B visas), then coerced to work in substandard conditions for little to no pay under threat of deportation if they complained. Of course, the slave holders made sure the guest workers accumulated serious debts, such that if they returned to the Philippines they would face possible incarceration.
They were modern day slaves.
John Bowe in his book "Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy" describes how enticed illegal alliens cross our Southern border with hopes of a job. As they cross the border, a van pulls up and offers them work. The illegal alliens are piled into the back of a van where they ride, often for up to three days without stopping for food or a rest stop. As they get out of the van on a Florida farm they are told to pay the driver. Of course they are without money, so what happens next should make any freedom loving American shudder. The farm overseer buys the debt, paying the van driver about $1,000 per head. Bowe's book isn't a history book, my friends. It was published in 2007.
Bowe outlines the pattern he investigated in Florida, Arizona, and Southern California. It's the same template we see in the Manuel-Baldonado case. Illegal alliens are enticed with the promise of work but placed in debt before the first hour of work is completed. Because their wages are kept low and because their costs are tightly controlled (the "employer" usually sets the prices for the housing, company store, etc.), the illegal alliens never have a chance to get out of debt. If they speak up, they are either killed (in some scenarios) or referred to immigration authorities and deported. The threat of deportation (or death) and the burden of the debt keep the illegal alliens enslaved until amnesty. Then the cycle repeats, sometimes with immigrants becoming the new slave holders.
Modern day slavery has stark similarities with our slave holding past. Only this time we pretend that enticing slaves over the border is vastly more humane than picking them up in boats and shipping them in chains. We pretend that financial and mental enslavement is okay as long as there is no physical enslavement. There are obvious differences between modern day slavery and slavery 150 years ago - I'm not trying to attenuate the scope of past transgressions - but being "better" than our past is no excuse for continuing in concept what we fought to escape 150 years ago.
In 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation freed around three million African and African-American slaves. One hundred twenty-four years later, the 1986 amnesty (misnamed the Immigration Reform and Control Act) was passed to give three million immigrants amnesty. It seems that the number of slaves didn't change much - only the color and country of origin. Since 1986 a series of amnesties and attempted amnesties have grown our illegal labor force to 12-13 million.
The next time you read an article about immigration, consider replacing some key words with their real world alternatives.
- Amnesty = Bribe
- Cheap labor/migrant worker = Slave
- Undocumented = Blackmailed
- The immigration debate = The slavery debate
- Low-wage illegals = Slaves
- Guest worker program = Legalized slavery program
- Migrant Worker = Slave
- Cheap labor contracting service = Slave Traders
- Comprehensive Immigration Reform = Slavery Redefinition
- Employers of illegal immigrants = Slave owners
Applying these substitutions to the UFW website http://takeourjobs.org/, we get a very interesting read:
Missing from the slavery debate is an honest recognition that the food we all eat - at home, in restaurants and workplace cafeterias (including those in the Capitol) - comes to us from the labor of slaves.
Agriculture in the United States is dependent on a slave workforce. Three-quarters of all slaves working in American agriculture were born outside the United States. According to government statistics, since the late 1990s, at least 50% of the slaves have been blackmailed to work in the United States…
Slaves are ready to welcome citizens and legal residents who wish to replace them in the field. We will use our knowledge and slave traders to help connect the unemployed with slave owners. Just fill out the form to the right and continue on to the request for slave application.
NumbersUSA has always maintained that the problem is Congress for allowing this to continue. While some fringe groups demonize immigrants and illegal alliens, illegal alliens are many times (though certainly not always) the victims. Other groups focus only on employers who fall prey to the economic pressures of modern slave ownership. However, if Congress would only secure our borders, enforce immigration laws, and lower the total number of vulnerable workers immigrating (both legally and illegally), this problem would reverse to the point that we could restore the honor of our immigration tradition.
While most NumbersUSA members are working hard to correct this problem, we still indirectly benefit from modern day slavery. Free market principles are still at play, and as labor costs are forced down in construction and food markets, our pockets also feel the effects.
Only supporting businesses that use E-Verify is a good start, but the next time you drink orange juice, think about who picked the oranges. Then search our Candidate Comparison pages and find a True Reform candidate to support. If you don't have one in your district or state, support one in another race financially or with your time. There are a lot of True Reform candidates running in the November elections, some from the Democrat party and some from the Republican party. Only "we the people" can force congress to to restore our immigration tradition and put an end to modern day slavery.
SOLOMON GIFFORD is the Director of Technology for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Sep 24th 2010 @ 1:55pm EDT