Guest Blog by Sarah Eisele-Dyrli
“Three Florida fruit-pickers, held captive and brutalized [sic] by their employer for more than a year, finally broke free of their bonds by punching their way through the ventilator hatch of the van in which they were imprisoned. Once outside, they dashed for freedom” (The Independent, 2007).
Marino Lucas, Jose Velasquez, and Jose Hari had been enslaved by the Navarette family in the fields of Immokalee, Florida.
Slavery is making people work without pay by using violence and the threat of violence.
Human trafficking is a recent term that refers to the way slaves are bought, sold, and delivered. Instead of legally transporting people by boat and selling people on auction blocks as was done during the Transatlantic slave trade of the nineteenth century, traffickers today use force, fraud, and coercion to deliver people into the hands of slave owners.
According to the US government, there are an estimated 14,500-17,500 people trafficked into the US every year to become slaves. Many victims are undocumented immigrants, desperate for a better life for themselves and their families, who unwittingly give themselves into the hands of traffickers and slave owners.
What many Christians don’t realize is that there is an intrinsic connection between slavery and immigration.
On the one hand, as Christians we believe in the dignity and worth of every person, who is made in the image of God, so it is clear to us that slavery and human trafficking are wrong. On the other hand, too many Christians disparage and malign immigrants. These views toward immigrants are getting in the way of progress in ending slavery and human trafficking in our lifetime.
The current climate concerning immigration in general often makes rational discussion of the problem and solutions nearly impossible. But immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, are the most vulnerable people to becoming enslaved in our society.
According to the US State Department’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, slaves have been found most commonly “in domestic servitude, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, hotel services, construction, health and elder care, hair and nail salons, and strip club dancing.” Many of these also happen to be the most common sectors where employers hire immigrants—documented and undocumented.
Human traffickers take advantage of undocumented immigrants because they often
- do not know their rights
- do not trust law enforcement
- live in poverty
Traffickers thrive in conditions like these, regardless of whether they’re in the US, Moldova or Thailand. These are the perfect conditions under which to enslave people. These conditions are why slavery and undocumented immigration intersect in the industries listed above. Unfortunately, through our policies, laws, and attitudes about immigration, we have created these conditions here in the US, which are ideal for the enslavement of immigrants in these industries.
As Christians, this should trouble us deeply. In Exodus 22:21, God reminds Israel: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
If Christians believe enslaving immigrants is wrong, yet we are part of a country that has [unintentionally] created the conditions where enslaving immigrants is most likely, what are we to do?
- Allow God to transform your mind to see immigrants as God sees them. Read through Scripture and look for passages that talk about the “alien” and the “foreigner among you.” Allow Scripture, not the media, to formulate your view of immigrants.
- Purchase produce from farmers’ markets and join a Community Supported Agriculture farm (find these at LocalHarvest.org). You are much less likely to buy agriculture harvested by slaves this way.
- Learn the signs of slavery. People are rescued from slavery because neighbors or others in the community learn what to look for and contact authorities when they suspect a person is a slave.
- Put up posters throughout your community with the phone number for the human trafficking hotline. Order the free posters from The Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking website. Put them up where immigrants are likely to see them.
- Volunteer to serve in a ministry alongside immigrants at a local, immigrant-serving congregation. Get to know the “foreigner among you.
- Financially support organizations that help free enslaved immigrants. My pick would be the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who helped to free others enslaved by the Navarette family.
The illegal immigration–slavery connection should be a wake-up call to Christians. We cannot fight slavery on the one hand and then foster the conditions required for slavery on the other. But by taking action, we can work to change our culture, and ensure that no one in our country will be enslaved.
Sarah Eisele-Dyrli is the editor of the blog No More Slavery, and is an active anti-trafficking advocate in Connecticut. She also works for a national non-profit as a research associate to help develop tools communities can use to address a variety of issues, including immigration.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
If you’re interested in writing a guest blog, send us an email at [email protected].