Hidden in Plain Sight

At U.S. Catholic.org, Kevin Clarke recounts the story of Lucy, a young Kenyan woman trapped in a quiet upper-class New York hamlet, where she was forced to work as a house-servant. Clarke writes:

There are thousands of people like Lucy, held against their will, in the United States today. You may have passed them on the street, begging for small change, watched one working in a neighbor’s yard or behind a kitchen door, or passed one cleaning a room in a four-star hotel. Some have helped put food on your table or sewn the clothes you wear. A large number of them are trapped deeply underground but still, like their brothers and sisters, in plain sight behind the black-filtered facades of massage parlors and strip joints.

They are the community of America’s enslaved people, trafficked sometimes legally, most often clandestinely across the U.S. border. They are held by force and violence or by the cruelest forms of psychological coercion and persuasion by individuals or by organized crime networks that reach all the way back to the homelands of the trafficked in Africa, Mexico, Central America, Central Europe, and Southeast Asia.

… “We’ve had domestic laborers, sex workers, restaurant workers, victims who have worked in construction,” says Sehla Ashai, an Illinois-based legal advocate for trafficking victims. “We’ve had people in just about every low-paying service industry job.”

“Trafficking victims can be found in all walks of life. They’re not going to be found in some dark alley,” says Nyssa Mestas, associate director of anti-trafficking services at the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Department of Migration and Refugee Services. “You’ll find them working in nice homes or even for legitimate businesses.”

… Some trafficked laborers end up working for big agricultural processors well known to consumers, but their abuse is distanced from respectable food companies by a kind of bureaucratic plausible deniability.

“We had [traffickers] harvesting for two big citrus processors that put the orange juice on your table,” says Brigitte Gynther, a member of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida working with the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW).

“You often wonder how [growers] never seem to realize this is going on,” says Gynther, “but the citrus and tomato growers all use contractors. The workers never see the owners; there is a whole system in place of non-responsibility. . . . These guys are kept on isolated labor camps; nobody knows where they are.”

Read the entire piece here.

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