A judge recently found the owners and managers of a Virginia based laundry business guilty of illegally smuggling 100 migrants over from El Salvador. Using threats of violence and deportation, the migrants were then forced into modern slavery, compelled by the owners and managers to work long hours, live in inhumane conditions and suffer abuse from their managers.
Chain of exploitation
Magnolia Cleaning Services was a Williamsburg-based business that cleaned linens for hotels and timeshares in the local area. In 2021 authorities opened a probe into their business after receiving a tip from an acquaintance of one of the victims. Once the probe began, investigators uncovered a chain of exploitation and a clear case of labor trafficking and modern slavery.
“Fear was common among the workers, who were often told they would be deported if they declined to work more hours… (a manager) told a 13-year-old girl that ‘her contacts in El Salvador would hurt and/or kill her upon her return to El Salvador if she refused to perform work tasks as directed,’”
The chain of exploitation began with workers being told their “smuggling fees” were a debt they owed to the company. They were then charged rent to stay in a warehouse without air conditioning or heat and that lacked a kitchen or showers as well as forced to work 11-hour overnight shifts.
They used fear to trap them
By creating fake identification documents and false wage records the owners profited off the work of the immigrants and by using lies and threats, trapped them in modern slavery. The investigation and the indictment underline the prevalence and hidden nature of modern slavery not just in the U.S., but everywhere.
Adriana Mirarchi, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, stated
“Human trafficking can occur any time in any community and almost anywhere, it is a crime that often happens in plain sight, in plain view. And far too often, too many Virginians and Americans think: ‘It doesn’t happen here. Not my community.’ Tragically, it does.”
Survivors assisted investigators with the probe and have since been connected to support resources including a T visa which is provided to victims of human trafficking and is a pathway to citizenship. As part of the judgement the owners are required to forfeit more than $3.9 million dollars of their profits with an undisclosed amount to be paid to the survivors.
The blame for modern slavery isn’t on traffickers like the Virginia laundry owners alone. Vulnerabilities to modern slavery are perpetuated by the systems in place around the world and often boil down to a political choice. Global migration systems need an immediate overhaul, join us in calling for safe migration for all to prevent and protect against human trafficking!