US Failure: Thousands remain virtual slaves in America
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." — 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified Dec. 6, 1865.
According to an investigation by The Kansas City Star, thousands of people remain virtual slaves as the United States fails to find and help human trafficking victims in America.
America declared war on human trafficking nearly a decade ago. With a new law and much fanfare, the government pledged to end such human rights abuses at home and prodded the rest of the world to follow its example.
But an investigation by The Kansas City Star found that, in spite of all the rhetoric from the Bush and Obama administrations, the United States is failing to find and help tens of thousands of human trafficking victims in America.
The Star also found that the government is doing little to stop the flow of trafficking along the porous U.S.-Mexico border and that when victims are identified, many are denied assistance.
The United States also has violated its own policies by deporting countless victims who should be offered sanctuary, but sometimes end up back in the hands of traffickers.
After spending millions of taxpayer dollars, America appears to be losing the war in its own backyard.
Even some top federal anti-trafficking authorities in the Bush and Obama administrations acknowledged serious problems.
“The current system is not yet picking up all the victims of human trafficking crimes,” Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told The Star two weeks ago. “It has been a growing problem and in a world of growing problems, it’s time for the nations of the world to take it on.”
America’s failure to live up to its own high standards isn’t for lack of will or good intentions or even money. The Star’s investigation pointed to problems that are more systemic: an uncoordinated, inconsistent approach to finding victims; politically charged arguments over how to define trafficking; and a continuing disbelief among some in local law enforcement that it even exists.
The issue is further complicated by the heated debate over illegal immigration. The willing participation initially of some victims is blurring the lines and testing the law.
“People feel if you come in illegally, anything that happens to you is your fault,” said Lisette Arsuaga, with the Los Angeles-based Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking. “Slavery is not an immigration issue. It’s a civil rights issue. There’s no justification for making someone a slave.”
It may be hard to imagine that slavery exists in America, but trafficking victims are all around us. The Midwest, in particular, seems to be an emerging hub.
Although trafficking usually is considered a coastal phenomenon, more alleged traffickers — 36 in the past three years — have been prosecuted by federal authorities in western Missouri than anywhere in the nation.
One Kansas City case, involving Giant Labor Solutions, is believed to be the largest labor trafficking ring uncovered in U.S. history.