The Pitt County Coalition Against Human Trafficking will meet Thursday, Sept. 16, at 9:30 a.m. virtually.
The September meeting will feature guest speaker, Lillie Malpass (she/her/hers), the executive director of the Pitt County Coalition on Substance Use (PCCSU).
Malpass completed her masters in public health from East Carolina University in 2020. She is a certified health education specialist and is passionate about educating the community on substance use, trauma and recovery.
Originally from Hallsboro, N.C., Malpass now considers Pitt County her second home.
She is currently teaching two sections of HLTH 4611 – Program Evaluation for the Department of Health Education and Promotion at ECU.
“The intersection between substance use and human trafficking in Pitt County and all of North Carolina is large,” said PCCAHT facilitator Pam Strickland.
“It is important that we come to the table and talk about these intersections and how one leads to the other or vice versa. Ms. Malpass will offer our coalition insight into the issue in Pitt County, as well as an avenue for professionals at our table to collaborate with professionals and community members at hers.”
The Pitt County Coalition Against Human Trafficking will welcome Ashley Lowe, survivor and advocate, to speak on her experiences and her work around providing support to girl survivors of exploitation and trafficking during the scheduled June meeting.
Lowe works as an advocate for the nonprofit organization Karana Rising.
Karana Rising supports survivors for life, not just a season, customizing a path to wellness that involves body, mind, soul, and community.
“I love advocating for girls who were like me,” Lowe said.
“When growing up, I felt like there weren’t enough resources for girls that were like myself and experienced some of the things that I encountered into my adolescent years. I love what I do and I love telling my story because our voices need to be heard. I live by the motto reach one teach one. I want to teach and educate young women and girls that they are not alone and there are people that have in their shoes and understand where they come from.”
Pam Strickland, PCCAHT facilitator and founder of NC Stop Human Trafficking said the voices and the stories of survivors are imperative when developing localized services and resources.
“As a community, we need to understand what survivors need, and not impose as service providers what we think they need,” Strickland said.
“We are excited to hear Ms. Lowe offer up sound advice and wisdom that she possesses through her lived experience and advocacy work.”
The Pitt County Coalition Against Human Trafficking meets on the third Thursday of the month at 9:30 a.m. via zoom and in person at the new Farmville Public Library, 4276 W Church St, Farmville.
Lauren Anzelone, LCSW, founder of LAMB’s Place, will speak about the relationship of human trafficking to the foster care system during the May meeting of the Pitt County Coalition Against Human Trafficking (May 20 at 9:30 a.m. virtually or at the Farmville Public Library).
Lauren received her Master’s in Social Work in 2009 from East Carolina University and became a fully licensed clinical social worker in June of 2019.
She has worked in the mental health field since 2002 and with young people in the foster care system and/or aging out of the foster care system since 2009.
Lauren saw the continuous need for stable, affordable housing for young people that age out of foster care or have had adverse childhoods and barriers to overcome as they transition to adulthood.
She heard countless stories of the dreams young people have for their lives, all while seeing the many barriers they have to reaching those goals. Her heart was broken as she realized that many of the young people aging out of foster care will experience homelessness and do not have stable/consistent relationships to help them navigate life and the many bumps in the road. After walking out of the third home in poor conditions that the young people were living in, she said, “God, you need to do something.” He said, “Ok. You do it.” and LAMB’s Place was started.
Without stable housing the young people are more likely to have difficulty with obtaining/maintaining employment and education. The instability also increases the risk that the young people getting involved with the legal system or more at risk of getting involved in human trafficking. The goal of LAMB’s Place is to assist the young people with gaining the independent/transitional life skills they need to be successful and to reach their life goals. Counselors meet with them weekly and help them get connected with community resources to help them meet their needs. Since opening their first home in the summer of 2020, they have opened three homes and supported 8 Residents.
To attend this meeting you can go to the Farmville Public Library, 4276 W Church St, Farmville, NC 27828, or attend the meeting on zoom.
Join Bonnie Jean Kuras of TEDI BEAR Children’s Advocacy Center and Melinda Sampson of NC Stop Human Trafficking to discuss what awareness events are popping up across Pitt County for Child Abuse Prevention & Awareness Month.
With April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Pitt County Coalition Against Human Trafficking is welcoming LaDwina “LaLa” Barlow, sexual assault advocate and personnel director of REAL Crisis Intervention, to discuss the intersection of sexual assault and human trafficking.
The Pitt County Coalition Against Human Trafficking will meet virtually on April 15 at 9:30 a.m.
Barlow has a bachelor’s in social work and has worked in crisis intervention and mental heath field since graduating from East Carolina in 2015.
She has been a crisis counselor for a little over five years and a victim advocate for nearly four years with REAL Crisis.
Pam Strickland, facilitator of PCCAHT, said, “We are excited to have LaLa speak with us on this broad intersection of sexual assault and human trafficking. Through her experience, she has a nuanced understanding of both issues and is a true advocate in her ability to address this with both compassion and strategy.”
The Pitt County Coalition Against Human Trafficking will be highlighting best practices and standards of care for professionals who serve human trafficking survivors.
On Thursday, March 18, at 9:30 a.m., PCCAHT will convene virtually with guest speaker Nancy Hagan, PhD, North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission Coordinator of Training and Technical Assistance. Hagan works with the executive director to plan and conduct training around human trafficking to a wide array of partners and communities locally, statewide and nationally. Hagan came to the commission after three years as a senior human trafficking analyst with Project No Rest, a grant funded anti-human trafficking initiative based at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work.
Prior to that, she worked for 20 years in direct service and program development at a community-based organization in rural North Carolina. She has expertise in the identification, awareness, and response to both sex and labor trafficking, with a particular focus on the labor trafficking of vulnerable people who are foreign nationals.
“We are happy to have Nancy Hagan speak to the members of the coalition about the standards of care that has been developed by the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission,” said founder of NC Stop Human Trafficking and coalition facilitator Pam Strickland.
“Locally, our service providers need to know the best practices in providing survivors with the best possible care so survivors are empowered to live independent and successful lives. We want to prevent well-meaning service providers from causing undue harm to survivors because they did not know differently. We hope this session provides the knowledge necessary to our service providers so that victim response is the best it can possibly be in Pitt County.”
To attend this meeting, go to pccaht.org/2021meetingminutes
GREENVILLE, N.C.: The Pitt County Coalition Against Human Trafficking will be highlighting the importance of teen dating violence prevention in an effort to end commercial sexual exploitation of children.
On Thursday, Feb. 18, at 9:30 a.m., PCCAHT will convene virtually with guest speaker Kyla Reece, victim advocate for the Center for Family Violence Prevention, who will discuss the overarching issue of teen dating violence in Pitt County.
“February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month, and it is through intimate partner violence that traffickers groom victims into commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking,” NC Human Trafficking founder and PCCAHT facilitator Pam Strickland said.
“Traffickers also target young people. When we are able to look at the leading mechanisms of grooming and recruitment, and cut down the efficacy of those techniques that traffickers employ to victimize youth, we are preventing human trafficking. PCCAHT is happy to have Ms. Reece join our discussion around disrupting the pipeline of victims to traffickers through intimate partner violence prevention in Pitt County.”
ABOUT PITT COUNTY COALITION AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
PCCAHT was created to increase collaboration among agencies and organizations addressing human trafficking in Pitt County. Through collaboration, the coalition builds awareness of sex trafficking and labor trafficking in the county. PCCAHT works to increase identification of sex and labor trafficking victims locally as well as improve short term and long-term outcomes for identified victims. PCCAHT also works to prevent human trafficking. For more information about PCCAHT, visit www.facebook.com/PCCAHT or www.pccaht.org.
We all know what big press conferences look like announcing the arrest of human traffickers at the culmination of a years-long investigation.
The common rhetoric around these conferences are the lauding of law enforcement and prosecutors and inevitably addressing that victims were “rescued.”
It is difficult to fathom that some of those victims may have needed deliverance from the officers sworn to protect them – but that was the case in Arizona in 2018.
It certainly didn’t look like officers were involved in the sexual assault of human trafficking victims during a press conference in September of 2018 when Lon Weigand, deputy special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Arizona, took the podium praising the efforts of agents and other law enforcement agencies that led to the arrest of nine people in a human trafficking investigation in Arizona.
However, almost two years later, those charges were dropped because officers were not allowed to testify in court, and investigative journalists discovered why.
HSI undercover officers were given approval by their supervisors to pay for sex acts from the human trafficking victims during this investigation.
Make no mistake, that is federally sanctioned sexual assault.
If you are curious if that egregious abuse facilitated the conviction of human traffickers, it didn’t. If you are curious if the victims are now safe, you will remain that way, because we don’t really know. Those victims cannot be located. Those victims were very likely retraumatized by this unconscionable investigation.
In the anti-human trafficking movement, survivors have often decried the practices of law enforcement, and rightfully so.
When the people who are designated to protect take the most marginalized people in our community and threaten and abuse them, we are left questioning where the justice really is in our justice system.
When many survivors talk about law enforcement, they tell stories of being forced to have sex with officers to avoid arrest.
The terror campaign that traffickers wage against victims to maintain control over them further drives those who need help into the shadows.
After all, traffickers also use threats of arrest and police brutality against victims to get what they want.
And when we consider that victims of human trafficking are disproportionately people of color or immigrants, the likelihood that they come forward for help is further reduced.
The current alarms blaring – and rightfully so – about how people of color are treated by law enforcement and the political environment in which ICE is encouraged to actively deport immigrants and detain them in inhumane conditions at our country’s southern border, result in people who desperately need help being terrified to reach out and get it, and quite frankly, they are not wrong to stay hidden in the shadows of abuse.
What choice do they really have?
It was with great and profound outrage, but with little surprise, that I came upon a news story about HSI undercover officers – a branch of ICE, by the way – paying for sex acts from people they had identified as victims of human trafficking, and that it was approved behavior by supervisors in the agency.
According to HSI’s Blue Campaign, “DHS (Department of Homeland Security) uses a victim-centered approach to combat human trafficking”.
Authorizing misogyny, the sexual objectification of women, sexual assault, and contributing to victimization and trauma of human trafficking victims is not a victim-centered approach.
As NC Stop Human Trafficking founder Pam Strickland put in several of her complaint letters to government agencies designed to keep officers accountable, that is “institutionalized exploitation.”
It was clear in the journalistic investigation of these crimes that the local law enforcement officers partnering with HSI were appalled. All the agencies, except for HSI, of course, have policies clearly prohibiting officers from having sexual encounters with people involved in investigations.
But as Clark Neily, vice president of criminal justice at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank said, “It is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which the law enforcement community collectively turns a blind eye when its members engage in misconduct.”
And while we can go through the laundry list of policy changes that could make law enforcement practices more humane to victims of crime, let’s begin with making sure our federal officers are held to the highest standards and ask that HSI policy clearly and explicitly forbid sexual activity of any kind with people of interest in an investigation.
We also need to ensure that HSI receives more oversight, which based on reports, is sorely lacking. I would encourage you to make your concerns known to the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, the elected oversight body for Homeland Security
*The survivor story highlighted in this blog is based on actual survivor experiences, but is not an actual account.
Carla was trafficked by someone she believed to be her fiancé. He convinced her to leave Mexico and start a new life together in the US. Once they arrived, he told her he didn’t have the money to support them, and she would have to make money for them. He convinced her to sell sex “for a little while” until he could find a job to support them. She reluctantly agreed. She didn’t know anyone else in the US, was too embarrassed to ask for help from her family back home, and didn’t want to lose the only relationship she had. The situation worsened. When Carla refused to “work” she was beaten.
Finally, she was arrested by a law enforcement officer who was trained in recognizing the indicators of Human Trafficking. Although she was distrustful and afraid, she told the officer her situation. He promised that he would help. He introduced her to a human trafficking advocate who assured her that if she cooperated with law enforcement, she would receive services. She shared information with law enforcement about her trafficker and his colleagues, who had employed the same strategy to entice women to exploit. She gave names and locations, which put her in danger from the traffickers.
Meanwhile, her immigration attorney (with a free legal service agency) applied for a T visa for Carla.
Created by Congress in 2000, the T-visa status was born from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to offer protection to victims and increase law enforcement investigation and prosecution of human trafficking.
The T-visa is a temporary immigration benefit that enables victims of human trafficking to stay in the United States. It allows victims to be eligible for legal employment in the United States and receive certain state and federal benefits.
To qualify for a T-visa, there are four criteria: 1. a person is a victim of a severe form of human trafficking; 2. they are in the U.S. due to trafficking; 3. they comply with reasonable requests from law enforcement to aid in the trafficking investigation; and 4. They demonstrate they would suffer severe hardship and harm if they were removed from the U.S.
The purpose of the T-visa is two-fold. It aids law enforcement in putting together sound cases against traffickers. Law enforcement needs the victim to be in a stable environment (able to work and acquire housing) to bring charges and ultimately a conviction against a trafficker. The second reason is humanitarian. The United States has not historically returned a crime victim to a country where they would “suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm”.
Back to Carla: Her attorney tells her that as of the end of 2019, there were 2,358 applications pending. Since only 865 applications were processed in 2019, it could easily be three years before she receives an answer. And the odds aren’t great- 42% of the applications are denied. During that time, she is subject to deportation and can’t work legally, making starting a new life difficult.
If the application is denied, ICE will deport her. (On June 28, 2018, USCIS announced that the denial of a petition for a T-visa would trigger removal proceedings. )
Carla decides the slim chance of receiving a visa 3 years from now isn’t worth the risk of re-exploitation and/or arrest and deportation. She decides to return to her family in Mexico.
So, not only is the victim not receiving services to which they are entitled, they are being penalized with deportation.
This means she won’t receive counseling and services that she needs to recover from her trauma, and that law enforcement has no victim to help them build a case. Very likely, no charges will be filed against the trafficker.
The Numbers Are Bleak
There were only 500 approvals in 2019, which is the lowest amount of approvals since 2010.
And while the amount of approvals reached a new low, the number of denials reached a new high- 365.
There are now 2,358 applications that are pending, which is also the highest number of pending applications in history.
These cold statistics represent real victims who are not getting the relief they are promised by the United States under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
If ICE is reporting the highest levels of denials of T-Visa applications ever to be recorded, it can only be surmised that the government is making it unnecessarily difficult for victims to get relief under the protections they have been granted. The TVPA requirements have NOT changed, yet the level of denials has changed. It’s difficult to believe that 42% of the applicants were denied for a legitimate reason.
The increase in denials is due in part to this administration’s reinterpretation of the requirement that the “person be in the US due to trafficking”. Now the administration requires that the person be a recent victim, as opposed to someone who recently had the courage to speak to law enforcement or recently had the definition of human trafficking explained to them, and realized they are a victim.
A survivor may be suffering from PTSD as a result of their victimization and receiving treatment in the U.S. for it. If so, they are still in the country “on account of” trafficking.
Trafficking victims are often required by the trafficker to conduct criminal activity. Prostitution is an obvious one, but they are also required to transport or sell drugs, shoplift, and steal from sex buyers, among many other crimes. Here in Pitt County, a trafficker required his victim to pass counterfeit money. (That turned out to be a blessing, because the victim was caught passing the counterfeit bills, and that is how she was rescued.)
Even when these charges are dismissed, the visa applications are sometimes still denied.
So, the very victimization that makes them need a T visa (forced criminal behavior) also causes them to be denied one.
These denials are based on a harsh, unfair and unrealistic interpretation of the TVPA. It is robbing survivors of human trafficking the rights promised by the United States government.
While denials have skyrocketed, approvals for T-visa applications have plummeted. Again, the TVPA requirements have NOT changed, yet the level of approvals has. It is incongruous.
Only 865 T-visa applications were processed in 2019, and at the end of that year, 2,358 applications were still pending. At that rate, it will take 3 years for all of the current applications to be processed, and in the meantime, the applications continue to pile up. Obviously, more staff needs to be hired and trained to process the applications.
The ramifications of this backlog cause cascading damage to the lives of victims, to the anti-human trafficking movement and to the level of trust that victims and the American public have in the US government.
A T-visa denial for a victim of human trafficking is catastrophic. Victims of human trafficking who are denied T-visas are more likely to be deported, since USCIS policy is that the denial of a petition for a T-visa triggers removal proceedings.
That threat of deportation looms over them, and that fear is a powerful coercive mechanism for traffickers. Unjust denials result in re-exploitation. What irony- the system created to protect them actually offers ammunition to the trafficker.
If a victim of human trafficking cannot legally work because they are waiting for T-visa approval or have been unjustly denied, they are more vulnerable to being re-exploited and re-victimized. Their only avenue of income would be through illegitimate work in an underground cash economy, which is often exploitative.
The T-Visa program is also designed to improve human trafficking investigations. The reality is that law enforcement needs the victim to be present and able to cooperate, in order to build a solid case against the trafficker. If the victim isn’t granted a T visa, they are extremely vulnerable to re-exploitation, they can’t get a “normal” job, and often have difficulty securing housing. If they are dealing with all of these issues, and not receiving any help from law enforcement or the US government to stabilize their lives, they will be unable to help with the case, and will have little motivation to do so.
If victims believe that cooperating with the investigation will result in harm, denials and delay, they are less likely to help law enforcement develop a case against a trafficker.
If victims are less likely to help investigators, and solid cases cannot be developed to apprehend and jail traffickers, public safety is at risk.
Rhetoric vs. Actions
The current messaging from the Trump administration is that it is focused on human trafficking prevention and victim restoration. In practice, they are harming victims of human trafficking by undercutting programs for them.
As a result, innocent victims like Carla are revictimized by a law meant to protect them.
There is Something We All Can Do
As community members there is absolutely something we can do.
It is important that your elected officials know that you want victims of human trafficking to receive protections they are promised under federal law. Though legislators can’t directly change administration policy, they can strengthen the law and eliminate wiggle room resulting in better outcomes for immigrants who have been trafficked in the US.
Your voice can instigate change. Tell your representatives and senators that more staff is needed to process applications in a timely manner and that triggering deportation after a T-visa application denial is not sound policy for victim restoration or public safety. You may even mention that Human Trafficking policy in place for 20 years should not be changed because the current administration seeks to minimize immigration of any kind.
You can call or write your local media outlets. Let them know that this is an important issue, and should not be lost amid the constant and ever-changing news cycle. Talk to your friends, family and organizations about the failure of the administration to ensure victims of human trafficking are being protected.
You can also share it on your social media pages. Many people don’t realize this vitally important program is being undercut by the current administration’s reinterpretation of long-standing policy.
Human trafficking is one of the greatest injustices of our time, and each of us must do our part to end it.
My journey into anti-human trafficking work began in the fields of Eastern North Carolina. I had just gotten a new job at a newspaper. I wanted bylines. I wanted awards and accolades. I was the stereotypical hungry journalist.
I did not know, when a volunteer with the Farm Laborers Organizing Committee in Dudley, North Carolina, contacted me, what exactly to expect.
All I knew is that I was going to jump at the opportunity to tell the stories of men and women who were a mystery to me.
I was excited, but I could have never imagined what I would eventually learn.
I first met a man who came to the U.S. from Guatemala.
He mortgaged his home to paythe price to get to the United States for a job opportunity that became a nightmare.
Standing in front of a bright blue trailer in Seven Springs, his entire hand bandaged, he recounted his story. Translated by a FLOC volunteer, he said in a voice that was tired and a shaking, he wanted to return home, but he could not.
He said he could not work either because the machinery the workers were using to put in tobacco had taken off part of his finger and that injury would keep him out of work for weeks.
After that accident, he stood in a sweltering tobacco field for an hour waiting on the labor contractor to decide to get him medical attention.
The single-wide trailer he was living in was shared by eight other men. There was no air conditioner. There were not enough beds for eight men.
At the labor camp that looked like a trailer park, workers hid behind clothing hanging out to dry. They were scared. The men he lived with were not there because they were scared, too.
There was something in me that shook a little after visiting with him.
A few weeks later, I visited a camp in Wilson County where I met a man who had gotten to the U.S. with the help of a coyote. He traveled on foot across Mexico for five days and nights.
He had worked in Florida and New Jersey as a migrant farmworker when I met him, but said his living conditions in North Carolina were by far the worst.
At the time of our talk, he was living in a cement facility with open bathrooms and sleeping quarters. He showed me his “paystubs” made out of scraps of paper. They made little sense to me, partially because the handwriting was illegible and scrawling and partly because whatever deductions were marked were nonsensical.
It was a clear indication that he wasn’t getting paid what he was promised.
He was kind and offered me tomatillos, which I remember so vividly because in the midst of his wretched circumstances, he gave me something he should have kept for himself.
When I drove home that day, I cried.
I also remember talking in the FLOC office to a DACA recipient who is a second-generation farmworker and activist. She was sexually assaulted in the fields as a teenager. She told me something had to change, that women who were farmworkers were treated horribly.
At the time she was young, and my heart filled with this anger that I couldn’t quite name, all I knew was someone had to do something.
I had made up my mind.
I was going to write this story. I was telling everyone about this injustice, and I thought, surely once people understood this profound abuse and exploitation on the soil of the land of the free, that maybe there would be a spark of change.
That is why I became a journalist to begin with, to tell the truth about the world and inspire people to change the injustices and embrace humanity.
I was naive.
When I turned in my first draft of the story, it was eviscerated. Comments like, “They knew what they signed up for,” and “How do you know this what they said, you don’t know Spanish,” were the go-tos from leadership.
The story was killed and then purged from the server files.
At the time I was outraged, and though I have lost my files and notes from that summer in 2014, I recount their stories from an imperfect memory.
I could recount to you my outrage at the time, but there is no need. I didn’t begin working in anti-human trafficking advocacy until 2018, so now that I am in advocacy, I have the luxury of taking what I learned from them and my colleagues in the field to tell the story of exploitation in the fields of North Carolina.
The agricultural industry is booming in North Carolina. North Carolina is the leading producer of tobacco, poultry and sweet potatoes. North Carolina ranks second in the nation for hogs, trout, turkeys and Christmas tree production. All of this contributes a little less than $15 billion to the state’s economy, according to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.
This is not something that anyone would find astounding. North Carolina was built on agriculture. One only needs to open a history book to see the impact of agriculture on this state and the whole of the south.
But with the booming industry that feeds our state’s economy and literally puts affordable food on our tables, there is a dark side.
That dark side, operating in the open, for the most part, is labor trafficking and labor exploitation in the fields and on the farms in this state.
This is not an indictment on farmers or the agricultural industry.
It is important to note that most agricultural employers are not exploiting or trafficking their workers. It is the vulnerabilities inherent in the migrant farm work profession that lend themselves to a population that is easier for traffickers to manipulate. It is also important to understand that, in many cases, it isn’t the grower who is the trafficker, but rather the labor contractor.
A labor contractor is what could be interpreted as the middle manager, supplying the grower with the necessary work force to complete harvest times.
According to “Labor Trafficking – What Local Governments Need to Know,” written by Margaret Henderson, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government, and Nancy Hagan, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work, “the circumstances of migrant farm work involve vulnerabilities that traffickers can exploit at any point in the labor chain. Agricultural laborers are not eligible for overtime per the Fair Labor Standards Act, and excessive work hours, as well as wage and hour violations, are common conditions of employment for them. The work is labor-intensive and typically relies on unskilled foreign-born labor.”
That characterization is true. The migrant farmworker from Mexico who gave me the tomatillos offered up his “pay stub” which was handwritten on a scrap piece of paper, showing pay “deductions” he did not understand and hours far less than he had worked.
The two men I referenced were undocumented workers.
These workers are threatened with deportations – which could be detrimental – their families are threatened or they are threatened.
The worker from Guatemala could not return home because of the heavy yoke of debt bondage. He mortgaged his home, if he returned, he would have no way to pay that mortgage and he and his family would become homeless.
In “Indicators of Labor Trafficking Among North Carolina Migrant Farmworkers,” personal stories the researchers were able to include:
“[A] 53-year-old Mexican worker reported that he had crossed the border approximately 20 times. Despite his experiences, the contractor who transported him from Florida to North Carolina this year forced him to pay all of his labor earnings for several weeks. Workers often refer to these types of exploitation as a ‘trata de blancas’ which is a colloquialism meaning the contractors are like pimps.”
“A 30-year-old man from Nayarit, Mexico reported that he was promised $9.75 an hour to work in tobacco but when he arrived in North Carolina, the only work available was in sweet potatoes for 45¢ a bucket.”
“Workers are aware of their vulnerability and one stated, “We do not complain because of our status. I have a big family to support and so, I’ll take anything because if I get deported my wife and children will have no one to support them.”
In the current political environment, the likelihood that an undocumented worker will come forward and ask for help is slim to none.
An H-2A visa enables workers from another country to come to the United States for a limited time to work in agriculture. This visa is tied to a certain grower or labor contractor. As the worker’s legal status hinges on staying with the employer who holds the visa, when working conditions become exploitative and abusive, the worker is left with a choice.
They could jump the visa and become undocumented and ineligible to work in the U.S. during the next agricultural season or they can remain in the exploitative or trafficking situation.
According to the U.S. Department of State, in 2017, there were 161,583 H-2A visas issued in the U.S.
North Carolina is one of the top 10 states in the nation that uses the guest worker visa program.
Hagan, who also works with Project NO REST, said, “Most of the exploitation that rises to the level of human trafficking occurs by farm labor contractors. Farm labor contractors are seeing North Carolina as fertile ground. The companies that are operating here are quite large. Their reach is broad.”
In “Indicators of Labor Trafficking Among North Carolina Migrant Farmworkers,” personal stories the researchers were able to include:
“One respondent reported that the workers’ movements were restricted and that the grower did not allow them to ‘leave and do recreational things (clubs, drink, etc.) which might put [the workers] in danger. [The workers] were disciplined after one incident.’ Another worker said his, ‘contract states we cannot leave for recreation. They take us to grocery store on Sundays.’”
“A prime example of just how little oversight there is in the administration of guest worker visa programs is the case of one North Carolina labor broker, Craig Eury.
Until 2016, 24 Eury was listed on public documents as a director for both the North Carolina Growers Association (NCGA), a cooperative of nonprofits that helps farms in North Carolina recruit workers through the H-2A program, and the International Labor Management Corporation (ILMC), an agricultural labor recruitment business that helps clients find and bring foreign workers through the H-2A and H-2B programs.
In 2015, Eury was sentenced to 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to obstruct a government function and conspiracy to defraud the United States, according to published reports.
“International Labor Management was ordered in December to pay $1.12 million for defrauding the federal government by bringing guest workers to the United States for one job and sending them to another,” The Fayetteville Observer reported.
Additionally, according to the paper, “Eury pleaded guilty to the two charges in June.
He also had been charged with three counts of encouraging illegal aliens to enter the country, one count of fraudulently obtaining visas, 34 counts of money laundering, six counts of mail fraud, and four counts of wire fraud. Those charges were dropped under a plea agreement.”
Despite all of this, Eury and his associated companies still have not been barred by the U.S. Department of Labor from recruiting within the guest worker program as of March 2018.
Hagan has dedicated years in the service of improving farmworkers’ lives in North Carolina.
As part of the Project NO REST awareness work, in conjunction with Capital Broadcasting, Hagan said there was a PSA produced that focuses specifically on labor trafficking in farm work.
“Project NO REST created a 30 second PSA that was shown at Capital Broadcasting one of the vignettes involved an actor called Jorge,” Hagan said.
“A longer video was produced in Spanish and tells the story of Jorge and that he is exploited by the contractor. Project NO REST has also produced materials and pamphlets to distribute that are easy to read handouts [for farmworkers].”
Kathy Nuñez, case manager with Project FIGHT, said farmworker outreach is paramount in curbing this issue.
“Last year, we partnered with NC Farmworker Project to build [rapport] with farmworkers. We gave them information about human trafficking and gave them the number to call in case they need food, clothing or housing,” Nuñez said.
“We reached about 800 farmworkers last year. They had no idea that they had an option to not have to live the way they were living. Of course, there are other variables and they do have rights as H2A workers. They had no idea that they didn’t have to turn in their passports.”
Hagan has also done a lot of outreach work around farmworkers and the NC Growers Association. She has gone to Vass, N.C., where H2A farmworkers first touchdown on the soil of North Carolina to offer information to workers about their rights before they are taken to their respective properties.
Hagan hopes to see continued awareness around labor trafficking and people across the state working together to improve farm worker conditions.
“I hope to see continued and increasing awareness around the people who grow our food, tend our crops, harvest and grow our crops,” Hagan said.
“Pretty much anywhere in the state that isn’t urban people are living near farmworkers. It is important that we stop seeing people as other, but see each other as ‘we.’ Let’s look at our commonalities across faith communities, in health clinics, even shoppers at Walmart, say hello to those workers and acknowledge the humanity of everyone. Human trafficking dehumanizes people and creates them into commodities, and as individuals, we can push against it.”
The NC Farmworker Institute is a full day of education geared around the issues that farmworkers face. You can go to the institute, learn and network with organizations and advocates working to improve the conditions for farmworkers in North Carolina.
“The Farmwokers Institute is really for anyone and geared to people working with farmworkers,” Nuñez said.
Nuñez said farm workers are an integral part of the institute, and partnering is a key way to address farmworker needs. Interpretation will be available.
NC Field is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and one of its programs, Give Food a Face, needs support from advocates like you! The “Give Food a Face” campaign focuses on raising public awareness about the injustices behind the industrial agricultural system.
Give Food a Face focuses on raising public awareness about the injustices behind the industrial agricultural system.