A disturbing but important book about a shameful practice.
Bowe, a J. Anthony Lukas Prize–winner and co-editor of GIG: Americans Talk About Their Jobs (2001), offers a searing report on recent immigrants enslaved as workers in out-of-the-way places in modern-day America. Often covered in national television broadcasts and then forgotten, these forced laborers are not chained or whipped; they are hoodwinked by contractors with the promise of work in the United States, then housed and treated poorly and threatened with deportation or reprisals against families back home if they do not produce. Bowe describes labor situations in three places. In an isolated southern Florida town, undocumented orange pickers living in trailer camps work for contractors like Ramiro “El Diablo” Ramos, who pay the workers’ way to labor camps, force them to work long hours, live in crowded and shabby barracks and shop in company stores. Threatened and gouged with fees, the workers are “free” to complain—though they don’t dare. In Tulsa, Okla., John Nash Pickle Jr., 65, a wealthy employer who insists he is helping foreigners, recruits welders from India with a bait-and-switch scheme that forces them to take out exorbitant loans from families so they can “train” in the United States for well-paid Middle-Eastern jobs. Having paid their training fees, the workers must surrender their documents, live in crude lodgings and work for two years amid threats of deportation. Bowe concludes with a complex tale of labor and immigration abuses in the garment trade in Saipan, a U.S. commonwealth in the Northern Mariana Islands that gained fame when it was brought up during the Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay scandals. Bringing his accounts to vivid life with individual stories and courtroom testimony, the author also emphasizes the difficulties federal authorities face when trying to prosecute such cases.
There’s much more, all brilliantly reported, and the author lashes into cheerleaders of globalization’s promise for the world’s workers, advising them to go live like one of these “nobodies.”