Brennan (Anthropology/Georgetown Univ.; What’s Love Got to Do with It?: Transnational Desires and Sex Tourism in the Dominican Republic, 2004) examines the everyday lives of people who have formerly been trafficked into forced labor.
Through her interviews and casual conversations with dozens of individuals, the author makes painfully clear that exploitation of migrant labor is a fact of life in the United States. Whereas the term “trafficking” is often assumed to mean sex trafficking, Brennan is concerned with the larger picture of trafficking into forced labor of all kinds—e.g., domestic, construction, agriculture or other low-wage jobs. She writes not of headline-making dramatic rescues but of the day-to-day lives of the formerly trafficked, those trying to rebuild their lives in the U.S. and make it their home. Through the voices of women such as Elsa, a domestic servant held in forced labor by a Saudi family in Washington, D.C., and many others in similar situations, she paints a grim picture of their lives under exploitation: long hours, withheld pay, isolation, fear of deportation, and physical and verbal abuse. For those who escape forced labor, life remains hard; they usually still live on the edge of poverty, separated from family members in another country who count on their financial support. A few are able to qualify for a T visa, or trafficking visa, a first step toward obtaining a green card; most, however, do not, remaining undocumented workers, subject to unsafe working conditions, insecurity, criminalization and deportation. Brennan winds up her discussion with a set of measures that concerned citizens can take to ameliorate the situation and a list of organizations providing legal and social services.
A tough-to-read exposé of trafficking and its effects and an urgent call for changes in federal immigration policy and ineffectual labor laws.