In the United States, members of a human trafficking ring are on trial. They are said to have exploited migrants in Georgia. The prosecutor speaks of modern slavery.
Atlanta – A human trafficking ring in the USA held hundreds of workers on farms in southern Gerogia state for years and used them as modern slaves. That emerges from an indictment by the federal prosecutor in the southern district of Georgia, which became public at the end of November 2021.
Modern slavery in Georgia includes over 100 people from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras who were smuggled into the US and used in agriculture under “brutal” and “inhuman” conditions, according to the indictment. At least two people were killed and another was raped several times, reports the regional daily Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
USA: Modern slaves in Georgia are forced to work hard with guns in front
Under threat of armed violence, some workers were forced to dig onions out of the earth with their bare hands. According to the prosecution, they only received 20 pennies per bucket as wages. Under threat of violence and deportation, the workers were also forced to carry out other activities such as construction and repair work.
According to the prosecutor, the people were locked in labor camps surrounded by electric fences. There they are said to have had little access to food or clean drinking water. The members of the human trafficking ring also confiscated the migrants’ passports and other documents in order to prevent their escape. The alleged slave owners are also said to have sold and bartered workers inside the ring, according to the indictment.
Modern Slaves in the US: Trafficking Ring Raises Over $ 200 Million
The exploitation of Georgia’s modern slaves is believed to have earned the trafficking ring over $ 200 million. The conspirators are said to have laundered millions of dollars through cash purchases of land, houses, vehicles and companies, according to a press release by the prosecutor in southern Georgia.
24 suspected members of the human trafficking ring and their business partners, who are said to have exploited the people, must now answer for a number of crimes, including forced labor, money laundering, witness manipulation and postal fraud.
Georgia: One of the largest human trafficking investigations in the United States
“The American dream has a strong appeal to destitute and desperate people from around the world. And where there is need, there is greed from those who try to exploit the workers for their own obscene profits, ”said David Estes, US attorney in Georgia. Estes thanked law enforcement agencies who have freed more than 100 people from the shackles of modern slavery through Operation Blooming Onion. The investigation, which was led by the Homeland Security Department and in which other authorities were involved, lasted three years. The operation is allegedly one of the largest investigations into human trafficking and visa fraud in the US, a spokesman for the prosecutor told the online magazine Vice.
According to the indictment, the exploited migrants entered the United States on a visa from the H-2A guest worker program, which is widespread in Georgia. The workers’ visa is tied to the employment relationship. This puts workers at a disadvantage, lawyer Slimar Mercado-Spencer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Mercado-Spencer represents farm workers in Georgia and is also an advocate for victims of the human trafficking ring. The workers who are in the country with such a visa could not simply look for a new employer. “As soon as the workers are there, they are stuck,” said the lawyer. She is therefore convinced that the uncovered case of modern slavery is not an isolated incident.
After the discovery of modern slavery in Georgia: employers in focus
However, the US government wants to focus more on the problem. Operation Blooming Onion, which uncovered modern slavery in Georgia, is the first completed investigation by the US Immigration and Customs Service ICE to focus on combating exploitation, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. It was only in October 2021 that Alejandro Mayorkas, Minister for Homeland Security in Joe Biden’s government, announced a change of priorities in migration policy. Instead of targeting illegal workers with large raids, authorities concentrate on “exploitative employers” and companies that disregard labor law. “We do not tolerate unscrupulous employers who exploit unauthorized workers, carry out illegal activities or allow unsafe working conditions,” said the politician of the Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, numerous other migrants from South and Central America are on their way to the USA. (Max Schäfer)