Back in 2005, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida made headway in their campaign against modern day slavery. In the months leading to their victory, CIW went on tours throughout the country. They made at stop in Boise State University, where I was attending college at the time. One of their speakers told the story of how immigrants, after crossing the U.S. – Mexico border, would be picked up by a contractor with the promise of shelter, food, and a job in Florida. “What a great deal, you might think,” the speaker said. In the hopes of finding a job that would help sustain their families back home, the workers would accept the offer. However, “this is when their nightmare was about to commence,” the speaker said.
Once in Florida, the workers would end up living in a trailer with ten other people or more. On top of this, the workers were told they had to pay the transportation fees from the border to Florida, a housing fee, and many times the fees associated with coming to the country with no documents. None of them had any money, so their wages would be reduced to about twenty dollars per week until they paid what they owned.
The working conditions were abysmal. They had to work long hours with no breaks and a threat of violence. If one of the workers made an attempt to escape, he would be beaten up in front of everyone to teach a lesson to whomever tried to run away. Even if they did, it was almost impossible to escape. The workers didn’t know where to go, and they lived surrounded by alligators, which instilled fear in them.
This was not an isolated case of an evil farmer doing wrong but rather a very large systematic problem that continues to persist in American society – the historical legacy of slavery.
A set of good examples are the immigration policies implemented in the south, such as in Alabama, where public officials are asking teachers to make a head count of undocumented children in all the K-12 schools; or in Georgia, where citizens are motivated to persecute undocumented immigrants; or in Arizona, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Senator Russell Pearce, while epitomizing white-male-super-power, are seeking to cleanse their state from undocumented immigrants.
My question is where are the values that supposedly founded this country? Not in the South! However, it is well known that American history tell us that there have been at least two competing forces in this country – one that attempts to acknowledge our historical realities and the other that attempts to speak to the well-intended values of freedom, justice, and opportunity.