Human Trafficking Goes On in the U.S., Too

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Human Trafficking Goes On in the U.S., Too

Newspaper article

By: David Crary

Date: November 1, 2005

Source: Crary, David. "Human Trafficking Goes On in the U.S., Too." Associated Press (November 1, 2005).

About the Author: David Crary is a national writer with the Associated Press. He covers a variety of topics of national interest.


The illegal trafficking in human workers to provide a source of cheap forced labor continues to exist in the twenty-first century, long after the nineteenth century banning of slavery. People from Africa, Asia, and Latin America are recruited with the promise of worthwhile employment, or are kidnapped, and then forced to work for little or no pay at menial, strenuous, or sexually exploitative jobs in locations throughout the world. There are estimates that 10,000-15,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year, many used as forced laborers.

Forced laborers often sign an agreement that indentures them for a certain amount of work at very low wages. They may be coerced into a contract that gives a middle man a certain percentage of the laborer's earnings. In some cases, workers may be provided by a family or village to another family or individual to pay off debts. Forced laborers are often closely monitored by their employers, required to work long hours, not allowed to go out in public alone, and often abused. In many cases, the laborers have little knowledge of their legal rights, and often may not speak the local language. These deficiencies, along with threats from the employer that they will be beaten or jailed, often make laborers reluctant to attempt to remedy their situations.

Research by the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, has shown that forced laborers in the U.S. come from many different racial groups. Chinese make up the largest percentage, followed by Mexicans and Vietnamese. Sometimes these forced workers do not come from abroad, but are forced into labor from within the U.S. Forced labor operations have been found in at least ninety U.S. cities, typically in large states such as California, Florida, New York, and Texas, which have large immigrant populations. There are five main sectors in which forced laborers are generally found—prostitution and sex services, domestic and household services, agriculture, sweatshops or factories, and restaurant and hotel work.


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The U.S. passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (Trafficking Act) in 2000, as a means of addressing the issue of forced laborers, and allocated budgets over $80 million annually for related activities. The money is used to enforce U.S. anti-trafficking laws, raise public awareness of the issue, and assist and protect victims. There are also efforts to reduce the vulnerability of individuals who may be coerced into forced labor by providing educational and alternative economic opportunities. The U.S. says working directly with other countries, and with the United Nations (U.N.), is key to combating the problem.

The U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) is an important international body for discussing the issues of forced labor. The ILO formulates international agreements and recommendations for international labor standards. One such agreement, the Convention Concerning Forced Labor, came into force in 1930. The Convention has amended and changed over the years to address modern modes of forced labor. The ILO's Convention on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor deals specifically with the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, forced labor, child prostitution, and the use of children for drug trafficking. Such conventions give countries a starting point for creating laws and procedures to deal with trafficking issues.

The U.S. provides immigration privileges, in the form of T-visas and U-visas, to victims of severe trafficking and various types of crimes, including forced labor. Severe trafficking includes the trafficking of people under 18 years of age for sexual exploitation and the recruiting of people for labor or service by use of force or coercion. The visas expire after three years, at which time the recipient can adjust to the longer term status of Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). The number of these visas that can be issued annually is limited to 5,000 T-visas and 10,000 U-visas. Holders of either of these visas are typically eligible for all governmentally funded programs, and are often eligible for refugee-specific programs.

Despite efforts made to combat forced labor, analysts suggest that more could be done to raise public awareness, particularly in immigrant communities. Also, it is thought that law enforcement should be better prepared to deal with crimes related to forced labor. Monitoring the sectors known to use forced labor, such as agriculture and food services, is suggested by the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, to ensure legal protection of workers. It is also reported that certain migration policies, such as not allowing immigrants to work for more than one employer, give incentives for using forced labor. Some analysts believe more could be done in the U.S. to provide incentives for victims of forced labor to come forward and report crimes against them.



Kempado, K., Sanghera, J., and B. Pattanaik, editors. Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered: New Perspectives on Migration, Sex Work, and Human Rights. Boulder, Colo.: Paradigm Publishers, 2005.


Roche, W. F., Jr. "Trapped in Servitude Far From Their Homes." Orlando Sentinel (September 15, 2002).

Sun, L. H. "U.S. has 10,000 Forced Laborers, Researchers Say." Washington Post (September 23, 2004).

Web sites

Human Rights Center. University of California, Berkeley. "Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States." 〈〉 (accessed January 10, 2006).

International Labor Organization. "Campaign Against Trafficking in Persons." 〈〉 (accessed January 10, 2006).

U.S. State Department. "Trafficking in Person's Report, June 2005." 〈〉 (accessed January 10, 2006).

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Human Trafficking Goes On in the U.S., Too

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