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Mexican-born Flor Molina was once a victim of modern slavery, condemned to forced labor in the garment manufacturing industry in the U.S. city of Los Angeles, California, after emigrating there with the help of a person who turned out to be a human trafficker.

For 40 days, she was coerced into working 18 hours a day at a garment factory with no pay, making dresses that sold for $200 in department stores.

Molina was made to sleep in the factory warehouse, sharing a single mattress with another victim, and to clean the facility after work.

Her ordeal ended 20 years ago, when she was finally able to escape one day, but for many migrants the nightmare continues.

More than 500,000 people in the United States, many of them migrants, currently live in conditions of slavery, according to data from the University of Denver. Others die in the process of emigrating, like the more than 50 Mexican and Central American migrants left to perish by mercenary human traffickers inside a locked trailer in late June in San Antonio, Texas.

The End Slavery Now project, which seeks to raise awareness about forced labor in the United States and other countries, tells the plight of Molina and others like her on its social networks.

Experts say that illegal migrants are one of the groups most likely to fall victim to tragedies like the one in San Antonio, or to fall into the hands of criminal groups using forced labor.

Ariadna Estevez, an academic at the Center for Research on North America at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), said that  even those who enter a country legally, through temporary work visas, can become victims of criminal groups.

The criminal organization Patricio, said Estevez, long operated within the United States as a legitimate migrant recruitment agency, but coerced dozens into forced labor on farms, allegedly making $200 million in four years.

A recent investigation by the Mexican daily Milenio, which looked into U.S. court documents, revealed the criminal organization sold 30 workers for $21,000, “as if they were cattle.”

Estevez said that criminal gangs benefit from from undocumented migrants for transporting them, and often also traffic in the legal documents they seize from them.

According to international organizations monitoring human rights, forced labor is extensive in more than 20 U.S. industries, such as agriculture.

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