"Something Old, Something New" on Exploiting Young Aliens

By David North on January 27, 2016

There is something all too familiar, and something rather new, in today's front-page Washington Post story about how some young illegal migrants from Central America are being mistreated and exploited on at least one industrial poultry farm in Ohio.

The story is that some teenage illegal migrants from Central America, once in federal custody, were turned over to exploitative labor agents — all with Hispanic names — and were then exploited on factory farms. They were forced to work long hours and housed under terrible conditions. Had the teens stayed home, or had they been handled differently by our government, the exploitation would not have happened.

The Post article focuses on one then-17-year-old from Guatemala, Carlos Enrique Pascual, who was released to traffickers "who took him to central Ohio, held him captive in a roach-infested trailer and threatened to kill him if he tried to leave."

What's old in the narrative — beyond the ancient story of the exploitation of the powerless — is that the owners of the factory farm, Trillium Farms, said that what had happened was not their fault, it was something that the labor contractors had done. This has been the favorite excuse of agribusiness for decades.

One of Carlos' jobs was "debeaking hens", a process the urban paper did not explain. As one who grew up on a farm with several hundred un-debeaked chickens during WWII, I realize why a farmer would want debeaked chickens — so that they do not kill each other. One of my early morning tasks was to pick up the bloody, hen-pecked carcasses of one or two of our Leghorns who had been killed by her colleagues during the night. Our Plymouth Rocks did not do that to each other. But I digress.

What's new in the situation is the technique used by the traffickers to secure new workers. They would go to detention centers for the illegal aliens and ask for the release of the teenagers on the grounds that they were friends of the family. The article indicates that these applications were not vetted closely, if at all, and frequently no fingerprints were taken of the "friends".

The Post, to its credit, put the story on the front page this morning, and devoted a full interior page to the continuation, complete with a map, photos, and graphics. The reporter is Abbie VanSickle, who is with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC/Berkeley.

This kind of reporting is so valuable, and so rare. We have, however, seen comparable work from BuzzFeed, such as its coverage of the H-2B program, cited in an earlier blog.