Labor Trafficking and Debt Bondage: “Tip of the Iceberg”

August 27, 2019 Harold D'Souza Spotlight 
Bonded Labor, Forced Labor, Empowerment

Labor trafficking and debt bondage in the United States of America is just the ‘tip of the iceberg'. 

There is no actual data as over 80 percent of the cases of human labor trafficking is not reported for fear of arrest, deportation, stigma, shame, justice system failure and lack or no knowledge of resources. Most victims of labor trafficking and debt bondage are foreign nationals. Contrary to the mental image the public tends to have of trafficking victims, many victims of modern day slavery are men.

 

Indian Culture 

In India many people dream of coming to the United States. People believe America is paradise and that only the truly blessed get to go to America. America was and still is considered one of the most powerful countries in the world. 

We never had running water and electricity growing up in India. The concept of restroom and bathroom never prevailed in those days. Every family will draw water from the ‘WELL’. In every ‘WELL’, there is a frog. The frog believes, this is his world, not knowing there is a better world outside of the ‘WELL’. Similarly, a victim in human labor trafficking believes that living under the control of the “Perpetrator” is the only “World”. The victim is manipulated, tricked and trapped by the “Perpetrator”. The victim is mesmerized by the trafficker, unable to understand that there is a better world with happiness, respect, choice, care and freedom. 

On May 29, 1994 my wife Dancy and I married in India. Ours was an arranged marriage and we have been happily married for over 25 years. This itself speaks volumes of our culture, values, character, moral and education system. Every adult in the community, we respect them as ‘Uncle’ or ‘Auntie’, be it a man or women walking on the streets.

 

Invite on H1B Visa 

Dream come true, I was invited to the United States of America on a H1B Visa as a ‘Business Development Manager’ on $75,000 salary plus benefits in the year 2003. Dancy my wife, sons, Bradly then 7 years and Rohan then 4 years old were on an H4 Dependent Visa. I came to America on four things. I came on trust, I came on faith, I thought I came on a promise and most importantly I came to live my American dream. Dancy and I were to work in a restaurant. 

The perpetrator made Dancy work for 18 months on a $200 salary per month, and never paid her a penny. 

Every country has it’s SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats). People around the globe are mesmerized by America’s Strength’s and Opportunities only, not knowing, that no one, at first glance even thinks about weakness of victims and threats from perpetrators in America.

Imagine that you wake up in a place where you don’t know the culture, you don’t know the laws, you don’t know the people and you don’t know the resources. Imagine that you thought you were going for a better life for yourself and your family but find yourself on the floor with no bed. You’re working 16 hours a day, 365 days with no weekly off days. Imagine you have no food and no money because someone you trusted took the $1000/- in cash, and documents you had “to keep it safe” and provided with a one- bedroom apartment with no furniture, no microwave and not knowing how to operate the thermostat in freezing winter. The perpetrator then threatens with getting you arrested, handcuffed, jailed and deported if you didn’t continue working without pay. You’re working so many hours that you can’t get home to care for your two small children.

 

Manipulated, tricked and trapped 

The perpetrator manipulated by promising to buy a house for my family, I never wanted a Bank loan but was forced into it against my wish. The perpetrator took a huge Bank loan to create a debt bondage. I never applied for a Bank loan and was granted over five figures in a bank check in my name. The perpetrator then takes me to his million-dollar house to celebrate the loan, by pouring scotch in a shot glass, late afternoon. The perpetrator said joyfully, “cheers you are a rich man”, we clink our glasses and before the alcohol could reach my belly, the perpetrator hands over a hand-written note stating, I owe him this much money in $$$$$$$? Which was not $10,000 or $20,000 or $40,000 but much more. I lost four things in one second; I lost my voice, courage, hope and freedom. Before I could understand what hit me, the perpetrator pats me on my back, and tells; ‘do not worry, you still owe me much more’. I was devastated. Where in the world and how am I going to pay him back this money. Friends this is a red flag “Debt Bondage”.

 

Labor trafficking victims nicknamed as “ILLEGAL” 

Our situation went from bad to worse, right from life threats, hiring a guy to shoot, child abuse, kidnapping of my kids, mailing fraudulent law enforcement agencies letters, discrimination as illegal and treating us as criminals. Labor trafficking victims especially foreign nationals are nick named as “Illegal”. Every perpetrator in the United States of America address their slave as illegal, never by their names. Perpetrators are psychopaths. I failed on 3P’s. I failed as a parent, I failed as a provider and I failed as a protector to my family. I confess, I was a sinner, I was a failure and  I was a defeated, depressed man. I was dying, starving and distressed; and my instability greatly affected my family. 

For any common man to survive in the United States of America you need four things; (1) State ID. (2) Work Permit. (3) Social Security Card (SSN). (4) Freedom. 

All victims are human beings, but perpetrators treat victims as commodities.

 

In God's home there is delay no denial 

Then, Dancy my wife was my voice. I had surrendered, lost my self-esteem, dignity and hope. Dancy confronted the perpetrator for her back wages; the perpetrator with a cold look told Dancy; “I will right now call the immigration officials get you arrested, handcuffed, jailed and deported. What salary? You are illegal, you are not supposed to work. Who told you to work?”   Dancy told the perpetrator “Just pay the $1000 cash which Harold gave you”. The perpetrator calls me; looks into my eyes and with cold blood tells me; “What cash? What money? You never gave me any cash”. I was aghast, traumatized and speechless. Fortunately, the chef in the restaurant I was working in overheard the conversation. It truly seemed to be the case that; “In God's home there is delay no denial”. The chef was in a similar situation before and took us to the U. S. Department of Labor. 

Every survivor has a painful story, but every painful story has a happy ending. Accept the pain and get ready for happiness.

 

Blessings on Victims by Community of Cincinnati 

It takes an entire village to raise a child. Believe it or not! The entire community of Cincinnati raised, rescued and restored ‘The D’Souza Family’ right from Sycamore School District, Saint Saviour Church, Cincinnati Works, Catholic Charity Services, Legal Aids, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, End Slavery Cincinnati, Sisters of Mount Notre de Dame, and others. Honestly it will take a book to pen down the names of each individuals whom  we  love, respect and accept as our family.

 

Turn obstacles into opportunities 

United States President Barack Obama appointed me to the historic United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking in 2015 and I have continued his service under President Donald Trump. The D’Souza’s Family! Life changed from pain to pleasure, darkness to light, slavery to success and fear to freedom. 

The U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking is comprised of survivor leaders who bring their knowledge, experience and expertise to advise and provide recommendations on federal anti-trafficking policies to the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF). 

The Council was established on May 29, 2015 by section 115 of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), Pub. L. 114-22, also known as the Survivor of Human Trafficking Empowerment Act. Each member is a survivor of human trafficking and together they represent a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. 

Pursuant to the JVTA, the duties of the Council include:

  • Provide advice and recommendations to the U.S. government, specifically the Senior Policy Operating Group (SPOG) and the PITF, to strengthen federal policy and programming efforts that reflect best practices in the anti-trafficking field.
  • Review federal U.S. government policy and programs intended to combat human trafficking, including programs relating to the provision of services for victims.
  • Gather information from U.S. government agencies, states, and the community for the Council’s annual report.
  • Publish an annual report that contains the findings derived from the reviews conducted of federal government policy and programs.
  • Serve as a point of contact for federal agencies reaching out to human trafficking survivors for input on anti-trafficking programming and policies in the United States.
  • Represent the diverse population of human trafficking survivors across the United States.

The Council brings expertise from its members’ professional experiences as leaders, educators, and consultants, as well as from their personal experiences of human trafficking. The Council also seeks input from survivors across the United States, through in-person meetings and social media outreach, to incorporate additional perspectives on what is needed in the anti-trafficking movement.

Why

Why perpetrators are attracted to get into this human trafficking business? Firstly, it is a $150 billion-dollar organized crime. Secondly there is minimum risk, and maximum profits. Thirdly most important 8 out of 10, perpetrators do not get prosecuted.

Who

Who are the victims of human labor and sex trafficking in America? Victim has no nationality, caste, color, creed, or blood group. It is hard to believe that the person serving you dinner, pumping gas, or selling you a carton of milk in the local convenience store might be the victim of human labor trafficking. Modern slavery is almost invisible, yet it exists in communities across the United Sates, including here in Ohio. I hope that Cincinnatians will take a moment to learn about what we can do to make it more difficult for traffickers to profit from the horrendous exploitation of men, women and children.

What

What can you do? Very simple, easy and does not cost a penny.  Talk to them with a smile, Hey handsome or beautiful what’s your good name? Pronounce their name couple of times in your conversation, shake hands, hug them and be compassionate in your first meeting. Believe me things will change in their lives. If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking please call National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888, text 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”) it is 24 hours, 7 days a week, Website: humantaffickinghotline.org. Languages: English, Hindi, Spanish and 200 more languages. If you are in the Greater Cincinnati area, you can call the Greater Cincinnati Human Trafficking Hotline at: 513-800-1863 which is also 24 hours a day, confidential and has options for tele-interpreters. Kindly request your family, friends, kids and community members to save these numbers on their cell phones.

Where

Where does Labor Human Trafficking happen? It is happening at gas stations, restaurants, motels, convenience stores, domestic servitude, agriculture farms, nail saloons etc. Point to be remembered, if a girl is engaged in labor trafficking, sexual abuse is a part of the crime by the perpetrator.

When

When a victim is rescued, self-care is very important. Firstly, a victim receives four things complementary during his or her trafficking situation and that is; blood pressure, diabetics, vision and dental problems.  Counselling should be mandatory for a “Survivor”. In a survivor’s life, healing does not mean the trauma never existed. It means the trauma no longer controls our lives. There is no expiration date for a trauma in a survivor’s life. Even if the trauma occurred 20 years ago.


Take away

Three things to take away from my experience of slavery to success is; be happy, be empowered and be thankful.  Notably, I flipped the 3P’s from failure of Parent, Provider and Protector to Passion, Purpose and Peace in my life to be the voice, courage, hope and freedom for victims. Suicide or silence is not a solution, nor is it an option or choice. Survivors are poor starters but strong finishers.

Making a mistake is not a mistake. Making no mistake is a mistake. Repeating a mistake is a big mistake. Learning from your mistake to empower other victims to live a happy life is not a mistake.

Lastly, do not tell your higher power how big the storm is in your life, but tell the storm how big your higher power is in your life.

God Bless America!


Topics: Bonded Labor, Forced Labor, Empowerment

About the Author



Harold D'Souza

Harold D’Souza is a survivor, spokesperson, and advocate. D’Souza is a Co-Founder of Eyes Open International, a founding member of the National Survivor Network, sits on the Board of Directors for Justice at Last, and is very active in local anti-trafficking organizations. United States President Barack Obama appointed Harold D'Souza to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking in 2015, and he has continued his service under President Donald Trump. He is an expert consultant to the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Originally from India, he is well educated and experienced in sales management. D’Souza has received an M.Com, and L.L.B. from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara, India.

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