At least 10,000 people are working as forced laborers at any given time across the United States, according to a new report that details the nature and extent of “modern-day slavery.” The study says the laborers are working for little or no pay on farms, in restaurants and sweatshops and as domestic servants and prostitutes.
The report, “Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States,” is to be released today on Capitol Hill by the University of California at Berkeley’s Human Rights Center and the Washington-based anti-slavery group Free the Slaves.
Most cases are in heavily populated states that have large immigrant communities, such as California, Florida, New York and Texas. In the Washington area, cases were reported in the District, Alexandria, Falls Church and Silver Spring.
In another case, a Mexican woman forced to work in a Los Angeles sweatshop said she was regularly beaten by her trafficker. She had been recruited to the United States with promises of a job and free room and board.
Instead, she was forced to work 17-hour days making silk party dresses and was given one daily meal of rice and beans. She was paid about $100 a week and was forced to pay off a “debt” of $2,550 to the trafficker, she said in a telephone interview.
Guards outside the sweatshop prevented her from leaving, and the trafficker—who owned the sweatshop—threatened to call authorities if she tried to escape. Eventually, local police raided the factory after receiving a tip. U.S. officials investigated her case and granted her permission to stay in the United States under a 2000 federal law to combat trafficking.
The woman, 32, fears for her children’s safety in Mexico. The trafficker recently contacted the woman’s family in her hometown of Pueblo, she said.
“Sometimes I feel like I want to fly or run to my kids,” said the woman, who did not want her name used because she feared retaliation by her trafficker. “I pray for them every day.”