Forced Labor in Ohio Prosecutions

February 29, 2016 6:27 am
by David Jakeman

Over a year ago, federal agents carried out a sting operation in a rundown trailer park in central Ohio. At the end of the operation, the agents had freed ten young Guatemalans who had spent several months being forced to work on a farm. The operation also led to the arrest of four individuals. So far three have taken plea deals. The fourth is awaiting trial.

The Immigration Scam

Back in 2014, the U.S. immigration system was drowning in its efforts to deal with the large number of unaccompanied minors escaping violence in Central America. It was during these developments that those accused of holding the minors made their move. U.S. immigration protocol requires immigration officials to take in unaccompanied minors who are running away from dangerous situations.

A number of teens were taken into federal custody, and then several people filed false paperwork posing as advocates for immigrants seeking to help the youth in their process to appeal for asylum. The people submitted their paperwork to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. Prosecutors say the defendants took custody of the migrant minors with the promise of providing housing and help with their court dates until their immigration standing was determined.

Poor Living Conditions for Migrants

The boys were transported quickly to Ohio where they couldn’t be traced and then held in poor living conditions and forced to work long hours. Life was not easy. They had their money taken from them. They were threatened and punished. But the scheme had begun even before the boys came to the country.

One of scam masterminds actually set up aspects of the scheme before the young men came to the country. He coerced victims’ family members to sign over deeds to property in Guatemala, with the promise of transporting the boys along with promises of education. As has now become abundantly clear, such promises were not fulfilled.

It is depressing to see that such examples of unfree labor still exist in the world today. The vast majority of American citizens do not realize that slave-type labor still exists, even in the United States, whether it’s in Ohio or Hawaii. Immigration attorneys have a better view of these realities, but even then, sometimes they need a reminder.

At this time, federal officials have not said where the young victims are, whether they are in the United States or back in Central America. The farm they worked on, part of Trillium Farms, says they had no idea that their contractors had been employing coerced labor, which speaks to the challenge of rooting out the problems of slave labor.1 So often there are so many levels of contractors and sub-contractors that it can become nearly impossible to know the situation of those working, even if they are helping supply those eggs you eat for breakfast.

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