Captive Workforce: Human Trafficking in America and the Effort to End it
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This thesis examines the phenomena of human trafficking in the United States as experienced by migrant workers, with the following goals: 1) Re-orient the present-day discourse on human trafficking away from the global ‘periphery’ and toward the ‘demand-end’ within the United States; 2) Broaden the discussion of what drives human trafficking to better account for the roles of economics, international migration and public policy; and 3) Focus on the experiences of those victimized by human trafficking without over-simplifying or sensationalizing. Chapter one describes the context and purpose of this study, definitional issues surrounding the term “human trafficking” and the methodological approach I employ in this thesis. Chapter two examines two historical examples of human trafficking in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and discusses some of the issues that have influenced public and governmental responses to these problems in the past. Chapter three provides a detailed account of human trafficking in the United States today as a form of “corrupted migration” and a manifestation of migrant labor abuse. Chapter four provides a detailed analysis and critique of current United States laws and policies to address human trafficking. Chapter five contains a discussion of human trafficking today as a symptom of structural oppressions on a global scale. In conclusion I argue the following specific measures should be taken to improve the American response to human trafficking: 1) All policies and laws directed at human trafficking should be understood within the global context of labor inequality. Any proposed solution should aim to decrease this inequality by empowering migrant workers; 2) These efforts should be coordinated with immigration laws and policies so that they work in synergy instead of in opposition to one another; 3) Policymakers should be aware of the ways in which human trafficking is implicitly connected to racist, sexist and classist oppression; 4) Both the United States government and non-governmental organizations should work actively to promote media coverage and representations of human trafficking that are accurate and that avoid stereotypes; 5) The United States government should work in cooperation with non-governmental organizations to conduct a comprehensive study of human trafficking within the United States. A significant component of such a study should involve input from migrant workers and actual victims of human trafficking.