“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!“
~Emma Lazarus, from ‘The New Colossus’
Would it surprise you to learn that thousands of foreign victims of human trafficking here in the United States have entered this country legally? Overhaul of our nation’s immigration laws is long overdue. The current system is a blueprint for exploitation of workers, both foreign-born and native, and is feeding a multimillion dollar criminal enterprise at the U.S.-Mexico border. America deserves an immigration system that protects all workers within our borders and at the same time guarantees the safety of our nation without compromising our fundamental civil rights and civil liberties.
A great many of the young women and girls that are forced into sexual slavery come to America on either student or tourist visas. Many instances of people trapped in domestic servitude have been brought here by wealthy sponsors under temporary visas for foreign workers. The same is true for thousands of workers being exploited in the technical services industry. Those that in fact arrive illegally in shipping containers, or locked in trucks, or by long marches through the desert… are continually fearful of arrest and deportation. But those arriving with valid visas are also frequently at the mercy of the people who control their documents. For all of these immigrants the American dream has turned into a living nightmare characterized by abuse, debt and terror.
Restore Fairness: bring back due process to the immigration system…
The United States may be unique in all the world as being a nation of immigrants that has been continually strengthened and rejuvenated by a periodic influx of new citizens from diverse cultures. Our entire national identity is bound up in the concept of “E pluribus unum”: Out of many, one. Even our flag reflects this concept of 13 original colonies bound in a union of diverse interests sharing common purpose. In the western hemisphere almost every country reflects the Spanish conquest, or in the case of Brazil, the Portuguese. The vast expanse of Canada remains almost exclusively divided between its French and English roots. Only in the United States may one find extensive and vibrant communities from almost every other nation on earth! For our entire history we have been a haven for peoples seeking freedom from political or religious persecution as well as those seeking greater economic opportunity.
But our immigration policy has never truly been one of open doors to one and all. Politics, race, and economics have always guided national policy. While we indiscriminately welcomed thousands of Cubans fleeing a communist regime, we harshly closed our doors on Haitians fleeing poverty and repression that was arguably worse. It has always been more the rule than the exception, that new immigrants were subject to exploitation and have borne the burden of starting out at the bottom rung of the social ladder.
When a huge labor force was required to build our transcontinental railroad system, Chinese immigrants were welcomed by the thousands. Otherwise our immigration laws have historically favored white Europeans. Waves of these immigrants have carved new lives in the United States: Swedes, Germans, Italians, Irish, and Jews from many countries have all sought and found refuge on American shores. More recent decades have seen a surge of immigrants from Latin America, from the former Soviet Union and from Asia, some fleeing political repression, most seeking economic opportunity.
The current maze of visa types is a mind-boggling alphabet soup of different rules and restrictions. One of the most frequently abused visa applications today is that of the ‘foreign guest worker’ or recipient of the H-1B visa. In the case of domestic servants, these visas are often obtained for diplomatic corps personnel to bring household staff into the country (A-3 visa). Once here, these servants are outside the reach of any oversight and may frequently be victims of sexual violence, extreme labor abuse or both. Additionally, their abusers, even if reported, often enjoy diplomatic immunity from prosecution. Other abuses of H-1B visas include the fraudulent use of these visas to gain entry for skilled workers for whom no jobs actually exist. Once here, and having illegally extracted an enormous fee, the sponsors may proceed to exploit the workers on an ongoing basis, holding them under threat of deportation. Our current system invites this type of abuse. It profits only the wealthy households and corporations that rely upon enslaved workers, and those foreign governments that rely upon the remittances that these workers may be able to send home.
The human rights organization Safe Horizon, beside addressing domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking, also offers legal help to immigrants who have been victimized or exploited:
Call our Immigration Law Project offices Monday-Friday from 9:30AM-5:30PM at 718.834.7430 x10, for further assistance. Se habla espanol. After business hours, call our 24-hour Hotline at 800.621.4673 (HOPE), where multi-lingual staff can assist you.
Related news and links:
Border Crossings: Links Between Immigration, Debt and Trade By Sarah Anderson, Institute for Policy Studies report, June, 2008
JAILED WITHOUT JUSTICE: Immigration Detention in the United States, Amnesty International report, 2008 (53 pages)
Report: “Insecure Communities, Devastated Families, New Data on Immigrant Detention and Deportation Practices in New York City”. Families for Freedom, Immigrant Defense Project and NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, July, 2012
They Pushed Back, NY Times Editorial re: Indian metalworkers, 6/28/10:
Dying to Leave (full version)
This two-hour WIDE ANGLE special explores the current worldwide boom in illicit migration. Every year, an estimated two to four million people are shipped in containers, shepherded through sewage pipes, secreted in car chassis, and ferried across frigid waters. Others travel on legitimate carriers but with forged documents. An alarming number of these migrants end up in bondage, forced to work as prostitutes, thieves, or as laborers in sweatshops. By listening to the voices of those who pulled up their roots, who risked all, the film will put a human face on what might otherwise be seen as statistical, overwhelming and remote. Focusing on five major stories whose journeys traverse 16 countries from Colombia to China, from Mexico to Moldova this documentary will look into the circumstances that drove these migrants from their homes, describe the difficulties involved in their epic journeys and reveal what awaits them in their new world. PREVIEW.
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