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A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America

by Saket Soni

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 2023
ISBN: 9781643750088
Publisher: Algonquin

Harrowing account of a latter-day revolt of people who were essentially enslaved—in 21st-century America.

Following Hurricane Katrina, the shipbuilding steelyards of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast needed welders and pipe fitters. India had many such workers, and a local so-called immigration lawyer teamed up with a couple of recruiters, one a former police officer, and, for a hefty fee, promised green cards to anyone who traveled to America. As immigrant rights activist Soni writes, one of those workers, who had spent years as a laborer in the United Arab Emirates, saw through the scheme, realizing that “any seasoned migrant worker knew that America let in only those with elite educations.” Still, with promised wages approaching $54,000 per year, he bit, landing in a work camp where the pay was not as promised, the food was execrable, and the treatment of workers was straight out of the antebellum South, complete with an updated version of a slave catcher. Said one overseer, “Our Indians have been dropping with sickness like flies.” Because the workers’ complaints were ignored, some decided to orchestrate the “great escape” of Soni’s title and, with the author’s help, organized a protest that took them on a march on Washington to demand justice. Writing with a sharp sense of irony, Soni recounts how the Department of Justice flubbed the initial investigations while Immigrations and Customs Enforcement actively colluded with the Mississippi shipbuilders against the workers. Soni and the workers hit plenty of dead ends as they tried to enlist the support of the liberal lions on Capitol Hill since “we were stuck in the minds of their congressional staffers as another ‘Interest group.’ ” In the end, even though the workers exposed “one of the largest human trafficking schemes in US history,” no charges were brought against the company or the scammers, a maddening conclusion to Soni’s agile account.

A searing exposé of corporate criminality and its governmental enablers.