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Department of Justice Deserves Kudos for Cracking Down on Traffickers Exploiting Immigrant Workers
by Carl R. Baldwin

When the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 was enacted, Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), a chief sponsor, referred to it as "one of the most important pieces of human rights legislation to pass Congress in years." This promise is being realized by the recent action of the DOJ in arresting and indicting six individuals accused of holding immigrant workers in conditions of forced labor.

According to the DOJ press release dated June 19, 2002, the arrest and indictment resulted from an interagency investigation by the INS and the U.S. Department of Labor's National Worker Exploitation Task Force, which was founded in 2000 "to address the problem of modern-day slavery in the United States." It also resulted from the fact that ten of the workers in the labor camp were brave enough and lucky enough to escape and tell their story.

The scheme cooked up by the conspirators involved going to Arizona to recruit and transport undocumented Mexican migrant workers, and then hold them in conditions of peonage in labor camps near Buffalo, New York. In a scenario worthy of a John Steinbeck novel, the roughly forty workers were often not paid for their grueling work, and were subjected to verbal abuse, threats of physical harm if they tried to leave, and, of course, of arrest and deportation by the INS. In the wake of the Supreme Court's March 27, 2002 decision in the Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB case, it goes without saying that the employer did not have to be concerned about a lawsuit demanding back pay by his undocumented workers. "Exploit away!" must have been the watchword.

With these arrests and indictments, the Department of Justice has struck a blow in defense of exploited migrant workers, including undocumented ones. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Ralph F. Boyd had this to say: "Trafficking of immigrant workers is a crime that exploits some of society's most vulnerable people. We will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who conspire to traffic in human beings for the purpose of using them as forced labor." The statute does not contemplate a "slap on the wrist": if convicted, the defendants would face up to twenty years behind bars. The case came to the attention of the DOJ, according to an article in the New York Times on June 21 by Steven Greenhouse, because ten workers managed to escape their confinement at the labor camp. They contacted Farmworker Legal Services of New York, which contacted the DOJ. The workers who escaped have been granted the S visa, and will be witnesses against the traffickers.

It is heartening to see the Department of Justice fighting to protect the human rights of undocumented foreign workers. It is a pity that it is not fighting with equal fervor to protect the liberty interests of the undocumented immigrants swept up in the post 9/11 dragnet.

The DOJ press release is at,0624-trafficking.shtm.

About The Author

Carl R. Baldwin graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1980, and became a member of the New York State Bar a year later. He worked for three years with the New York City Law Department, and then entered solo practice in immigration law, which he has continued to the present. His work with clients has included asylum applications, deportation defense, visa processing, adjustment of status, and naturalization. He has also worked to implement special laws, such as the 1986 "amnesty" (The Immigration Reform and Control Act), and the 1998 Haitian reform act (The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act). Mr. Baldwin is the author of Immigration News Monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at

He has written a book on immigration law, called "Immigration Questions and Answers," Allworth Press, 2002. The book, which contains essential background information about how the immigration law works, can be ordered online from Allsworth Press at:

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.