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Slave Labor Bust Tied to Big City Ring

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An INS bus takes 17 immigrants busted in a slave labor ring to Charlotte
SANFORD — They came here with promises of a better life. Now their dreams areshattered. More than a dozen deaf, illegal immigrants taken into custodyin Sanford are off to Charlotte on their first stop out of the country.

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

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

INS believes the Sanford situation is not only related to the one in NewYork, but part of a nationwide network. The houses where the immigrantswere picked up are now cleared out, shutting down an illegal slave laborsweatshop.

Agents call it bondage, a form of exploitation disabled people use formonetary gain. Seventeen Mexicans, most of them deaf illegal aliens, wereroused out of bed and herded on a bus. Agents say all but two areinnocent victims. Most followed under a man and his wife, a couple INSsay held the workers against their will and forced them to mass producetrinkets.

INS agent Tom Fischer says the workers were made to work 12 hour dayswithout payment and forced to remain inside. Those conditions, Fischeremphasizes, 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 theMexicans were legal.

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

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

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 veryorganized operation. INS agents says men worked in one house, while womenworked in the other.

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