Human Trafficking with a Twist
My husband and I sat in the human trafficking meeting, a mini-conference of sorts for community leaders banding together to prevent and/or prosecute incidents in our area as the summer months and J1 visa student workers descend. Russians, Filipinos, Ukrainians had often made contact with us in summers past — their passports unlawfully held, accommodated in flophouses of many kids to a room, their promised summer jobs disappearing in a smoke-and-mirrors mirage. Scores were students in the 18-22-year-old age range, away from home for the first time. And they had landed smack into human trafficking, American-style.
No, no, no.
You might be thinking sex workers when the term human trafficking is used. But now, the numbers seem to be shifting. Although dancing, stripping, escorting and prostitution still constitute large numbers, the labor trafficking is quickly taking over as more prevalent, more profitable (because everybody needs a manicure, a clean hotel room, or a cheap meal), and more difficult to prosecute. In other words, modern-day slavery. Bodies are being sold, but not always for sex, so innocent bystanders look the other way.
The students pay large amounts, usually thousands of dollars to participate in such “cultural programs”. Supposedly, they are to learn more about America than we are all a big bunch of shmucks, out to exploit them. They are forced, defrauded or coerced into sex or labor.
So while over 100 people in our area met with the State Department, Social Security, the police chief, local detectives, the FBI, a local judge and community groups, a new report from Polaris, a non-profit organization fighting modern slavery, was being released. It said that human trafficking comprises one of the most profitable criminal enterprises to the tune of about $420 billion/year worldwide. Many of these industries, grouped into 25 different kinds of businesses, you would never imagine.
A lot of it happens right as the students arrive. Handlers, third parties, are lying in wait at local airports to intercept them. Police and volunteers are now stemming that tide. Many female friends have reported suspicious working conditions at nail salons that they frequent and now I can tell them what to report to the police or the State Department 24-hour emergency hotline phone number for J-1 student workers: 866-283-9090.
Unfortunately, handlers, sponsors, employers and landlords understand the game. Should a foreign student worker try to report something amiss, it will never get to court before the student needs to leave for their home country. Thus, no witnesses.
So this summer, if you live in a big city, or smaller resort area and hear foreign accents, keep your eyes open. Try to befriend the workers and talk with them. Let them know that America is still the greatest country on the face of the earth and that we have good people who care.
I can only tell you in my own case, our home and our congregation have been filled with many foreign students on a variety of occasions— eating, talking, laughing— finding a little bit of home-away-from-home. It’s a worthy project and one that will affect a foreign student for life.
————-Tags: 25 different industries in human trafficking, innocent bystanders and summer workers, law enforcement and summer community, modern slavery, reach out to foreigners with friendship, sex trafficking or labor trafficking, student trafficking for labor