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COLUMN: The new American slavery

Shawn Russell

Issue date: 2/16/10 Section: Perspectives
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Too bad the hand of the 13th Amendment isn't long enough. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement collaborated with Signal International to promote human trafficking and slavery in Mississippi. The matter is currently being investigated by Homeland Security and the Justice Department.

Signal International hired 500 metalworkers from India under the guest worker program to fix oil rigs which were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Some of the Indian workers sold their homes and were in crushing financial debt in order to pay their recruiters up to $20,000 to come to Mississippi with the promise of receiving green cards.

Upon stepping on American soil, the workers quickly learned they would not be receiving green cards and that they could not find substitute sources of employment.

If they did decide to leave their labor camps they would be immediately fired and deported, hence they were really shackled to the soil upon which they worked. This is in fact neo-slavery, for men are compelled to choose between a life with bondage as would be true if they stayed in America and a life of perhaps starvation and ultimately death as would be true if they were deported to India (since they sold all of their possessions in India and are in un-repayable debt).

Just as black chattel slaves were given the choice to be fed in the plantation but withstand the alienation of their un-liberating labor or runaway into the wilderness and face predation, starvation and a diseased jungle.

Furthermore a strong possibility exists that with the destruction of alternative sources of employment comes a monopoly of wages and a dependency on a sole employer. Meaning that the employer has no real incentive to pay his or her employees a decent salary, for the employer owns the means of capital and can dispense such capital as deemed fitting or not at all.

Immigration enforcement agents gave advice to Signal on how to destroy the possibility of a workers rebellion since many workers in Signal's own words were "Chronic whiners." One such advice from the agents was to without prior notice withhold the workers personal belongings, gather them in a van and ship them back to India as if they were damaged goods, which could be returned after wear and tear.
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