Comments, In Focus, Migrants, Multiculture

USA: Immigrants and slaves

More than two million women, for the most part immigrants, are working in the United States in slave-like conditions, at the mercy of their bosses and with no legal protection whatsoever.

Deisy Francis Mexidor

Several websites and personal web pages are circulating information which is bringing out into the open the exploitation suffered in the workplace by people who leave their homes and families behind in search of the Promised Land.

There are moving stories of cases like that of two doctors in Wisconsin who were prosecuted for holding a Philippine woman as an indentured servant for twenty years. In 2003 Federal prosecutors won convictions against a Maryland couple who kept a Brazilian woman in their home as a servant for 15 years, paying her nothing. It is part of modern slavery, warned the then Californian state senator, Sheila Kuehl, in 2008.

Currently, of the 2.5 million female domestic workers registered in the USA, at least 95% are migrants coming from Central America, South America, The Caribbean and Asia.

In a statement to the multimedia news agency, Cimanoticias,  Mariana Viturro, deputy director of The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) said that these workers are prone to abuse by their employers.  According to Viturro “Employment law in the USA only protects domestic workers who are legally employed”.  These women are vulnerable and there are no laws to protect them.

Furthermore, they work in “abysmal conditions.  They are very isolated, they are forbidden from leaving the house, their passports are taken from them, they are given no house keys and they are forced to work without breaks”, according to the deputy director of the NDWA.

Violated rights

American President, Barrack Obama, stated that America is a country of immigrants and he says that he is in favour of immigrations reforms in order to legalise the situation of more than 11 million people.  In 1990 there were 3.5 million of these illegal workers.

The problem of more than two million domestic workers subjected to humiliating treatment in the workplace sits alongside that of other hopeful illegal workers who are waiting for Obama to fulfill his promises of  labour reform.   Faced with this situation, NDWA members joined the movement of immigrants across the country which is demanding rights for this sector and opposing discriminatory laws such as SB1070, passed in April 2010 in Arizona.

Viturro explains that the aim of the movement is “to change national attitudes to long term immigrants” and to move towards a migratory reform that has as its axis the respect for the rights of everybody to live a dignified life with access to work, education, healthcare and social services.

Meanwhile “Obama is under pressure to win the Latino vote as due to his unfulfilled  promises and the fact that his administration has made a record number of deportations (almost one million) he no longer has the support that he received in 2008”, indicates Katherine Vargas, spokesperson for the National Immigration Forum.

But many of those women who live in conditions of servitude were brought into the United States by human traffickers.

Major problem

The International Labour Organization (ILO) confirms that there are 12 million human beings living as slaves throughout the world.  Other specialist groups calculate that the real figure could be as high as 27 million.  This figure represents “twice as many people as were taken from Africa during 300 years of slave trafficking” according to Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, a non-governmental organization which fights against slavery around the world.

In modern times, Bales believes that “the owners of slaves enjoy all of the advantages of ownership without assuming responsibility.  In fact, the lack of legal ownership is a privilege for them as they have absolute control over what they own without the requirement to fulfill any legal responsibility”.

Despite the signing of international agreements and treaties, slavery has not been eradicated and persists on a global level according to the UN which on December 2nd each year holds an International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

December 2nd was chosen as it recalls the date of the adoption of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.

According to conservative estimates, in the United States, human trafficking gangs, which keep the abhorrent practice of slavery alive in the 21st century, are responsible for the illegal entry of almost 18,000 people per year into the USA who are sold and forced to prostitute themselves.

As a report published in 2008 by World News indicates, human traffickers exploit desperation, vulnerability, poverty and scant opportunities.

(Translated by Zoë Thurston – Email:

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