Local News

Slave Labor Bust Tied to Big City Ring

Posted July 25, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— They came here with promises of a better life. Now their dreams are shattered. More than a dozen deaf, illegal immigrants taken into custody in Sanford are off to Charlotte on their first stop out of the country.

The people accused of smuggling the immigrants into North Carolina are facing charges. Friday's bust is very similar to one earlier this week in New York.

Just four days ago, 50 deaf Mexicans were taken into custody by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Agents say the immigrants were forced to make trinkets and peddle them on the street.

INS believes the Sanford situation is not only related to the one in New York, but part of a nationwide network. The houses where the immigrants were picked up are now cleared out, shutting down an illegal slave labor sweatshop.

Agents call it bondage, a form of exploitation disabled people use for monetary gain. Seventeen Mexicans, most of them deaf illegal aliens, were roused out of bed and herded on a bus. Agents say all but two are innocent victims. Most followed under a man and his wife, a couple INS say held the workers against their will and forced them to mass produce trinkets.

INS agent Tom Fischer says the workers were made to work 12 hour days without payment and forced to remain inside. Those conditions, Fischer emphasizes, are intolerable, especially as we enter the 21st century.

The next door neighbor, Joann Cameron, never believed there was a problem. Cameron says the bust comes as a surprise to her. She believed the Mexicans were legal.

While the first raid was being wrapped up, agents swooped down on a second house-- another alleged sweatshop. They left emptyhanded but may be back.

Julia Pearson lives nearby. She finds it difficult to believe a sweatshop could be run out of Sanford. Pearson says the situation is a shame and a disgrace.

The Sanford sweatshop operated the same way as the one in New York. Workers left and sold trinkets in parking lots. It was also a very organized operation. INS agents says men worked in one house, while women worked in the other.