The New Slavery
Human trafficking flies below the radar of most people's consciousness, but it happens — even in New Orleans
By Sarah Andert
The Capri Hotel on Tulane Avenue was no place for human inhabitants in November 2005. Floodwaters from the levee breaches had inundated the building and sat festering for two weeks, leaving mold-covered walls. The rank odor of death permeated the air, mingled with the smell of decay and the fetid stench of wet, moldy carpet.
Amid the flies and roaches that had taken up residence, Hector Linares found more than a half-dozen Thai workers living in the dark, narrow hallways. When he entered, the workers were huddled around a propane stove, trying to prepare a meager meal in a single pot using contaminated water. They weren't there by choice. They were imprisoned by human traffickers, who had taken them to New Orleans at gunpoint and forced them to gut buildings damaged in the storm.
Linares, who was working then for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Immigrant Justice Program, was appalled by what he found. Some of the workers were shirtless, and some had no shoes. They were speaking in Thai, their voices conveying equal measures of urgency and fear. They had a reason to be fearful: They had been watched by an armed guard almost constantly since arriving in the United States two-and-a-half months earlier. In New Orleans, they were told the National Guard would arrest them, or that criminals would attack them, if they attempted to escape. They also were told that any outsiders who came to the motel would be shot.