In an Ugly Human-Trafficking Case, Hawaii Forgets Itself Editorial Observer By LAWRENCE DOWNES Published: September 20, 2010
This is a story of two farmers, Laotian immigrant brothers who grow vegetables in Hawaii . People love their onions, melons, Asian cabbage, herbs and sweet corn, and their Halloween pumpkin patch is a popular field trip for schoolchildren all over Oahu . They count local politicians and community leaders among their many friends, and run a charitable foundation.
Though they are relative newcomers, their adopted home is a state that honors its agricultural history, where most longtime locals are descendants of immigrant plantation workers. The brothers fit right in.
But they had an ugly secret. A captive work force: forty-four men, laborers from Thailand who were lured to Hawaii in 2004 with promises of good wages, housing and food. The workers sacrificed dearly to make the trip, mortgaging family land and homes to pay recruiters steep fees of up to $20,000 each.
According to a federal indictment, the workers’ passports were taken away. They were set up in cramped, substandard housing — some lived in a shipping container. Many saw their paychecks chiseled with deductions for food and expenses; some toiled in the fields for no net pay. Workers were told not to complain or be sent home, with no way to repay their unbearable debts.
The news broke last August. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice filed charges of forced labor and visa fraud. The farm owners agreed to plead guilty in December in Federal District Court to conspiring to commit forced labor. They admitted violating the rules of the H-2A guest worker program, telling the workers that their labor contracts were “just a piece of paper” used to deceive the federal government.
I wish I could say that at this point the case so shocked the Hawaiian public that people rushed to aid the immigrants, who reminded them so much of their parents and grandparents. That funds were raised and justice sought.
But that didn’t happen.
In an astounding display of amnesia and misplaced sympathy, Hawaii rallied around the defendants. After entering their plea deal, the farmers, Michael and Alec Sou of Aloun Farms, orchestrated an outpouring of letters begging the judge for leniency at sentencing. Business leaders, community activists, politicians — even two former governors, Benjamin Cayetano and John Waihee, and top executives at First Hawaiian Bank — joined a parade attesting to the brothers’ goodness.
The men were paragons of diversified agriculture and wise land use, the letter writers said. They had special vegetable knowledge that nobody else had, and were holding the line against genetically modified crops. If they went to prison, evil developers would pave their farmland. Think of the “trickle down impact,” one woman implored the judge. Besides, their produce was delicious.
The friends pleaded for probation, fines, anything but prison. The workers, now scattered to uncertain fates and still in debt, have seen no such empathy.
The Sous were supposed to have been sentenced months ago, but at a hearing in July they made statements that muddled and seemed to contradict their plea agreement. The vexed judge, Susan Oki Mollway, postponed sentencing to Sept. 9, so they could get their story straight. Back in court this month, the men recanted some of their sworn testimony, so the judge threw the plea deal out. Now there will be a trial in November.
Another shocking story emerged in Honolulu this month: a federal grand jury indicted six people on charges of enslaving 400 Thai farm workers on Maui and elsewhere — the largest trafficking case in American history. In Hawaii , no uproar ensued. The pumpkin-patch field trips are still booked.
Hawaii has a state motto: Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono, or the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. Hawaiians use “pono” to mean what is just or right, in harmony with nature and with other people. The words hang on huge bronze seals at the State Capitol, and I feel sure that most longtime residents of Hawaii can easily recall and recite them, in Hawaiian and English.
Whether some of them ever think about what the motto means, or care, is another question. Promise of a better life leads to night of sexual slavery
Report on CNN on Sept 17, 2010 by By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
Read about Claudia and the nightmare that is Human Trafficking.
Child Prostitution on Craigslist
From: change.org weekly 12-Sept-10
You probably know Craigslist.org as a place to buy concert tickets or a used sofa. But did you know that until recently, you could also buy sex with a child forced into prostitution?
Last week, after receiving pressure from human rights groups, 17 state attorneys general, and 10,000 Change.org members, Craigslist removed its "adult services" section, where child and adult sex trafficking victims were advertised to millions.
Sex trafficking remains one of the most pervasive, abusive and unacknowledged crimes in America. There are more than 100,000 children sold for sex in the United States each year, the majority of whom are 11 to 14 years old.
Until last week, Craigslist was the largest and most accessible marketplace for buyers and sellers of sex trafficking victims in the world. It not only made sex trafficking relatively easy, but because of its welcoming brand and 50 million users, Craigslist helped normalize the practice and gave it a safe space on the web. Those wanting to purchase underage sex didn't have to hide - they could browse Craigslist at work and make arrangements to rape girls after hours and on weekends. And many did.
The company has defended its adult services ads as an issue of free speech and claimed that few of the ads were for trafficking victims. But that's been a difficult position for the company to maintain in the face of public letters from girls formerly sold on Craigslist, including one from a trafficking survivor whose pimp forced her to advertise for her own statutory rape on Craigslist at age 11.
Without the platform afforded by Craigslist, buyers and sellers of trafficking victims in the United States will now have a more difficult time finding each other. But the fight against human trafficking is far from over. Here are three things you can do today to help:
1. First, although Craigslist removed its "adult services" section in the U.S., it still allows buyers and sellers of sex trafficking victims on its more than 250 international sites through "erotic services" sections. Sign the petition demanding that Craigslist fight human trafficking on all of its sites.
2. Second, activists are now mobilizing to ensure that other sites follow Craigslist's lead and remove human trafficking ads. The second largest classified site profiting from ads for human trafficking victims is Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media. You can take action by telling Village Voice Media it's time to stop profiting from child sex trafficking now.
3. Third, we need to strengthen the movement of people dedicated to fighting human trafficking wherever it appears in the future. To join more than 170,000 people standing against human trafficking on Change.org, go to http://humantrafficking.change.org.
For more news and commentary on the world of change this week, see the summaries from your favorite causes below. FBI BUST LARGE TRAFFICKING RING
Published on CNN September 3, 2010
- Indictment unsealed in Hawaii accuses employees of a California-based company
- 400 people were lured from Thailand with promises of lucrative jobs, the indictment says
- They instead were coerced into providing "cheap, compliant labor," it says
NEW FORCED LABOR CASE IN ALACHUA COUNTY Three charged with human trafficking on Alachua County farms.
Published in the Gainesville Sun: Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Federal prosecutors allege in the indictment that once the Haitian workers arrived in Miami they were denied access to their own passports and visas, effectively preventing them from going anywhere other than the farms where they were to work. The indictment also alleges that the workers were underfed, "supplied substandard housing and few beds, and denied necessary medical care, causing the workers to suffer chronic hunger, weight loss, illnesses and fatigue." At least one worker told investigators about being forced to work in fields recently sprayed with chemicals so harsh they left her with permanent scars. According to the indictment, those who complained about the conditions were threatened with being deported and became fearful of the three co-conspirators.
Human trafficking business booming in Bay area Tampabay 10 Connects report on Human trafficking generates $9 billion a year. Officials fear Arizona-type immigration law in Clearwater St. Petersburg Times (August 1, 2010)
Clearwater (FL) - They brought the woman to Florida from Guatemala, promising her a housekeeping job. Instead, they turned her into a prostitute. And, according to Clearwater police, members of the sex trafficking ring gave her a chilling warning: Don't even think about going to police. Cops, they told her, will show you no mercy.
From incidents like this, Clearwater police Chief Tony Holloway learned a lesson about mixing immigration policy with local law enforcement. People like the young woman - undocumented but the victim of a human-trafficking operation - are "not going to report the crime. That's how you breed these organized crimes."
This helps explain why Holloway wants no part of an Arizona-style immigration law in Florida.
Holloway's view is significant because Clearwater is home to Pinellas County's largest percentage of Hispanic and Latino residents. According to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 13 percent of Clearwater's 100,000 residents are Hispanic. Because many undocumented immigrants go uncounted, the actual number may be 20 percent or higher.
"It's not my job to figure out who's documented or undocumented," Holloway said. "We're going to go after the people who are undocumented and are committing crimes. I'll be the first one to contact (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) about people who are committing sexual assaults, burglaries ...violent crimes."
A federal judge pulled the teeth from Arizona's new immigration law last week, specifically the requirement that law enforcement officers check the immigration status of people they encounter during arrests and traffic stops. But the state is appealing. In Florida, some Republicans plan to pursue a similar law in the next legislative session.
Holloway fears the possible consequences.
He pointed to the recent arrests of a couple accused of a series of armed robberies targeting Hispanic men. Cooperation from victims helped police find the alleged perpetrators.
"We want them coming to the badge, not running from the badge," he said. "If they don't report the crimes to us, we won't be aware of what's going on in the community."
In the 1990s, Clearwater police helped immigration officials conduct "sweeps," only to learn that the majority of illegal immigrants detained were released and never deported, according to former police chief Sid Klein.
After that - and with insight gained through former deputy chief Dewey Williams' 2000 visit to Hidalgo, Mexico, hometown to many of Clearwater's Mexican immigrants - the police department distanced itself from those efforts and started looking for ways to bridge the gap between officers and undocumented residents.
About a decade ago, the police department donated $50,000 in drug seizure funds toward opening the Hispanic Outreach Center. A Spanish-speaking officer is dedicated as a liaison to the center, which in turn provides volunteer translators to assist police.
The department has also focused on getting more Spanish-speaking officers on the streets, most recently receiving a grant for materials to teach Spanish to dozens of officers.
Sandra Lyth, chief executive director of the Hispanic Outreach Center, said there is "definitely an elevated fear level" among Clearwater's Hispanic residents, who are very much aware of Arizona's new law and Florida's proposed legislation.
Lyth agreed that a new law could have a chilling effect on residents' cooperation with police.
"There would definitely be an impact in the number of crimes reported and the willingness of the community to come forward, which has been a challenge anyway," she said.
Lyth said she's a proponent of federal legislation to address immigration issues, particularly those dealing with children.
"We need comprehensive immigration reform and that is the federal government's responsibility to make that happen," she said. "It's a shame there's such a vacuum that we're trying to solve the issues at the local level when we need the federal government's engagement."
State legislatures step up efforts to fight human trafficking By Michael W. Savage Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2010 Suspects arrested in alleged human trafficking case Three arrested for forcing domestic victims into prostitution and also forcing them to work as dancers at strip clubs in the Bay area and in other locations 11 May 2009. How Clearwater helped destroy an international sex slave ring Tampa Bay based sex trafficking ring exposed 15 March 2009 Symposium reveals reality of human trafficking in Alachua County Report from Feb 8 FlaLaw Online.
Portland Oregon, leader in child sex trafficking
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-rather/pornland-oregon-child-pro_b_580035.html U.S. policy a paper tiger against sex trade in war zones This Story
The Kansas City Star has completed a 5-day investigative report on human trafficking which includes 20+ articles, excellent graphics, videos and photographs. I put together a compilation of all the articles in a Word document for your convenience. I was interviewed for the article and my contribution is in the last article. Their website is http://www.kansascity.com/trafficking/ which will give you all the credits. Child Labor. The Dark Side of Chocolate.