Labor trafficking and language barriers

By Heidi McRill - Guest columnist

Some have claimed that when foreigners are brought to the United States as labor trafficking victims, that they are benefitting from the change and the opportunities presented. In some aspects, they are. Most of the time, the boss will give the foreigners job security, a place to live and some other basic needs they might have not previously had. These alleged positive circumstances only skim the surface of labor trafficking. What most don’t see is that once the victims are in the country, they are controlled in almost every aspect of their lives. The bosses have control of where the victim works, sleeps, who they talk to, what times they work and often times how long they have to work in order to fully repay the boss for the cost of the move. Although the victim is making money and has a better life in the United States, it is not morally right that they are giving up some of their basic freedoms for these conditions. Having the knowledge of this control, people should stop giving business to the restaurants, massage parlors and other ethnic places in which labor trafficking might be taking place.

While growing up in the United States, instilled in us is the idea that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As Americans, it is believed that these things are given to us and that no one is able to take them away. For labor trafficking victims, the sense of freedom is missing. Having a job and making money is also very important to Americans, which is why some don’t see the problem with labor trafficking because the victims are still working and making money. What most don’t see is that instead of keeping the money, it is usually given directly to the boss who previously brought the victims into the country. The bosses might collect the money from the workers as a payment for bringing them to the United States and giving them a ‘better life’. After the cost of bringing the worker to the United States is almost paid, the bosses will often raise the price even more claiming that they owe the boss for all the money they have spent in additional expenses. This ensures that the boss continues to make money off the worker and keeps the control they’ve had. An article by Patrice Taddonio for PBS, which explores the stories of some Guatemalan teens who were brought to the United States, says “if the teens complained or didn’t want to turn over their wages to their traffickers, their lives or those of their families would be threatened.” By having the victims pay back the boss for all the expenses, part of their freedom is being taken away. This causes the worker to have no sense of reward or gratification for the work they have done, which in turn can cause the victim to stop working because they don’t see the point. In addition to making the worker repay the boss for all they have done, the bosses might also threaten to report the victim to law enforcement. Written in an article about Labor Trafficking by the Administration for Children and Families, it is explained that traffickers will use fear of reporting the victim as an undocumented alien to immigration officials to keep the victim obedient of the traffickers requests. Even just the mention of bringing police into the situation is terrifying for the victims. In most countries that victims are brought from, police are rougher and don’t have the same willingness to help as the officers we see in the United States. Hoping for respect by instilling fear is the way bosses are able to control their workers, but is not the way anyone should live.

The majority of the time when foreign workers are seen at restaurants or other places of work in America, they are not speaking English, but their native language. A boss, only to ensure that the workers don’t tell anyone else about their situation and the conditions in which their trafficker is holding them, can put this language barrier in place. While talking with a local law enforcement officer, he expressed his thoughts about some of the local ethnic restaurants. He said that he believes workers at some of these restaurants are currently being labor trafficked and are under the control of the business’s ‘management’. He explained that although he strongly believes this is the case, it is hard to prove anything if the management and workers were to be investigated. He also elaborated on the few times that he has tried to have contact with some of the workers but is unable to effectively communicate with them because of the language barrier. This problem is sometimes resolved by a translator, who could be making up everything the worker is trying to say or express. If the trafficker does teach the victim English, it is usually a lie about why they are in the United States. The Administration for Children and Families writes about the traffickers ‘coaching’ some of the workers to be able to answer questions about their time in the United States as a tourist or a student, being careful not to mention any work they do. This intentional barrier is just one aspect of the life of a labor trafficking victim and shows how tight the bosses control is.

When people go to restaurants and other places with ethnic workers, they don’t usually think about if the workers are labor trafficking victims and being controlled in every aspect of their lives. At restaurants, families go in, eat their food and leave only thinking about the quality of the service and the taste of their food. Because of all the conditions including the language barrier, collection of money and other ways that the bosses instill fear in their workers, it might be hard to catch labor trafficking when it’s actually happening. Just being informed about some of the signs can be helpful. Although some labor trafficking victims might be living in better conditions here than in their home country, the control over every aspect of victims’ lives should be a sign that the trafficking of foreigners for work in another country, needs to stop and so does citizens’ service at some ethnic places.

By Heidi McRill

Guest columnist

Heidi McRill is a senior from Anna High School/Upper Valley Career Center who also attends Edison State Community College.

Heidi McRill is a senior from Anna High School/Upper Valley Career Center who also attends Edison State Community College.