A reader sent me this revealing article about the H-2A system by Lornet Turnbull in the Seattle Times (2/20/05):"New state import: Thai farmworkers"
"The 170 Thai workers imported into the Yakima Valley to harvest apples and cherries last season were a curiosity in this part of the state where Latinos, not Asians, have been a familiar presence.
"The men, mostly poor farmers from rural Thailand, were the first foreign workers brought to Washington to pick fruit under a decades-old federal guest-worker program meant to fill labor shortages in agriculture. ...
And here's the bottom line: Thai cryptoslaves, excuse me, "temporary workers" have a "lower runaway rate."
"[Mordechai] Orian [the procurer] says he isn't whipsawing one group against another and in the past has brought workers from Mexico and Central America as well as Asia. He said the Thais have a lower runaway rate than the others and are more productive." [Emphasis mine]
A lower runaway rate. Have we come to this?
From yesterday's NYT:
A federal grand jury in Honolulu has indicted six labor contractors from a Los Angeles manpower company on charges that they imposed forced labor on some 400 Thai farm workers, in what justice officials called the biggest human-trafficking case ever brought by federal authorities.
The charges, prepared by Justice Department civil rights lawyers, were brought against the president, three executives and two Thai labor contractors from Global Horizons Manpower, which recruits foreign farm workers for the federal agricultural guest worker program, known as H-2A.
The indictment, which was unsealed Thursday in Hawaii, accuses Global Horizons executives of working to “obtain cheap, compliant labor” from guest workers who had been forced into debt in Thailand to pay fees to local recruiters. The company, according to the indictment, sought to “to compel the workers’ labor and service through threats to have them arrested, deported or sent back to Thailand, knowing the workers could not pay off their debts if sent home.”
The number of workers who are said to be victims is the largest ever in a human trafficking case, said Xochitl Hinojosa, a Justice Department spokeswoman.
... Since then, Ms. Martorell said, the center has identified 263 Thai guest workers who were brought to the United States on legal temporary visas by Global Horizons, but later fled what they described as oppressive conditions.
The indictment says recruiters in Thailand charged the workers — who earned as little as $1,000 a year farming in their home country — as much as $21,000 to obtain visas for the United States. Global Horizons did not disclose these fees to United States labor officials, the charges state.
Workers who were dispatched to a pineapple farm in Maui and orchards in Washington were paid far less than they had been promised, and were often housed in shoddy conditions, according to the charges; Global Horizons impounded their passports.
In recent weeks, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued findings against Global Horizons for civil rights violations, Ms. Martorell said. About 100 Thai workers have been granted residency visas for victims of human trafficking.
Swell. That will encourage Thais to avoid getting sucked into slavery -- you get a free green card out of it!
Among those facing charges are Mordechai Yosef Orian, president of Global Horizons, and Pranee Tubchumpol, director of international relations. Mr. Orian surrendered in Honolulu on Friday and pleaded not guilty, The Associated Press reported.
The AP's report is a little more colorful:
Orian appeared in Honolulu federal court with his ankles chained and wearing a blue collared shirt with gray pants. He was represented by a court-appointed attorney based on his contention that he couldn't afford one himself.
Orian, an Israeli national, faces a maximum sentence of 70 years imprisonment. He was ordered deported from the United States last year, but he has remained in the country during his appeal. The reason for his pending deportation is unknown.
U.S. Attorney Susan French called Orian's arrest "a major saga" because his public relations agency had told authorities varying stories that he was in Los Angeles, Texas and Albuquerque, N.M.
Authorities intended to arrest Orian when his plane arrived in Honolulu, but they later learned he had tried to "trick" authorities by boarding a separate flight, said French, an attorney with the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. They didn't know his whereabouts until he had already caught a taxi from the Honolulu airport.