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     News: U.S. Has 10,000 Forced Laborers, Researchers Say

    OtherBy Lena H. Sun
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, September 23, 2004; Page B01
    At least 10,000 people are working as forced laborers at any given time
    across the United States, according to a new report that details the
    nature and extent of "modern-day slavery." The study says the laborers
    are working for little or no pay on farms, in restaurants and sweatshops
    and as domestic servants and prostitutes.

    The report, "Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States," is to
    be released today on Capitol Hill by the University of California at
    Berkeley's Human Rights Center and the Washington-based anti-slavery
    group Free the Slaves. Most people think slavery is a problem that was solved long ago, said
    Laurel Fletcher, one of the study's authors and a professor at UC
    Berkeley's law school. "But in fact, it's alive and well. It has simply
    taken on a new form," she said. Forced labor has been documented in at least 90 U.S. cities, including
    some Washington area communities, and it is concentrated in poorly
    regulated industries with a high demand for cheap labor, the study says.
    Most victims are trafficked into the United States through force, fraud
    or coercion and are brought from more than three dozen countries, with
    China, Mexico and Vietnam topping the list, researchers said. Most cases are in heavily populated states that have large immigrant
    communities, such as California, Florida, New York and Texas. In the
    Washington area, cases were reported in the District, Alexandria, Falls
    Church and Silver Spring. The report is based on a survey of 49 service providers involved in
    forced-labor cases, eight case studies and an analysis of 131 incidents
    reported in the U.S. media, most of which involved many victims, the
    report said. The report's figure of 10,000 is less than a U.S. Justice Department
    estimate that at least 14,500 people are trafficked into the country
    annually. But cases often are hidden and victims are afraid to report
    the abuse to authorities, making it difficult to pinpoint a number. "That's 10,000 major crimes," said Kevin Bales, a co-author and
    president of Free the Slaves, who ranked enslavement "right up there
    with torture and kidnapping and murder." Employers use physical and
    psychological violence to hold victims captive, confiscating passports
    and threatening to harm family members. In one case, a Texas faith-based mission group recruited dozens of
    young boys from Zambia to perform in church choirs in Texas and other
    states. The boys performed several times daily, but never were paid or
    allowed to go to school and were forced to do hard physical labor, Bales
    said. He said the U.S. government needs to raise public awareness of the
    problem and train more local police to recognize signs of trafficking
    and forced labor. In another case, a Mexican woman forced to work in a Los Angeles
    sweatshop said she was regularly beaten by her trafficker. She had been
    recruited to the United States with promises of a job and free room and
    board. Instead, she was forced to work 17-hour days making silk party dresses
    and was given one daily meal of rice and beans. She was paid about $100
    a week and was forced to pay off a "debt" of $2,550 to the trafficker,
    she said in a telephone interview. Guards outside the sweatshop prevented her from leaving, and the
    trafficker -- who owned the sweatshop -- threatened to call authorities
    if she tried to escape. Eventually, local police raided the factory
    after receiving a tip. U.S. officials investigated her case and granted
    her permission to stay in the United States under a 2000 federal law to
    combat trafficking. The woman, 32, fears for her children's safety in Mexico. The
    trafficker recently contacted the woman's family in her hometown of
    Pueblo, she said. "Sometimes I feel like I want to fly or run to my kids," said the
    woman, who did not want her name used because she feared retaliation by
    her trafficker. "I pray for them every day." Staff writer Darragh Johnson contributed to this report.



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