Human Trafficking Hits Hawaii
The debate over immigrant labor in the United States is many things to many people. Lately, the focus has been almost entirely on the impact, real and imagined, of “illegals.” What’s gotten far less play are the poor conditions, substandard wages and outright exploitation awaiting those who come seeking the American Dream—legally.
Two cases currently moving through the courts in Honolulu demonstrate why this issue matters to Hawaii. The first involves the Sou brothers, owners of Oahu’s Aloun Farms, who pleaded guilty in January to “conspiring to commit forced labor” and, at press time, were awaiting sentencing. The second involves Mordechai Orian, president of Los Angeles-based Global Horizons, which provided workers to Aloun Farms.
“When Global Horizons, Inc. began sixteen years ago, it was the first company to establish a new and improved labor-recruiting, labor-providing business model to meet the temporary and permanent needs of employers worldwide,” reads the “about us” section of Global Horizons’ Web site. Under the auspices of a federal guest-worker program, outfits like Global Horizons recruit foreign laborers and hook them up with jobs—for a price. The workers have to pay back this “recruitment fee” before they can pocket earnings for themselves; it’s sold as a win-win, but often comes closer to indentured servitude.
One worker recruited by Global Horizons was a Thai man named “Intajak” (real name withheld) who was the subject of a probing May article in Mother Jones titled “Bound For America.” Intajak was sent to Maui by Global Horizons in 2004 to work the fields for Maui Land & Pineapple. From there, he relates a harrowing story of sleeping in the mud, subsisting on meager rations and escaping through the cane fields, making it to Paia and ultimately boarding a plane bound for California. At the time, he said he still owed $6,000 to Global Horizons and had no assurances his visa would be renewed.
In the same Mother Jones piece, Orian told reporter John Bowe: “When it comes to money, people will do crazy stuff. You cannot stop it and come to blame me.” Four months later, on September 2, Orian—along with four Global Horizons employees and two Thai recruiters—was arrested for “conspiracy to commit forced labor and document servitude,” according to the Honolulu division of the FBI. If convicted, Orian faces up to 70 years in prison.
“The indictment alleges that the defendants conspired and devised a scheme to obtain the labor of approximately 400 Thai nationals by enticing them to come to the United States with false promises of lucrative jobs, and then maintaining their labor at farms in Washington and Hawaii through threats of serious economic harm,” reads an FBI release announcing the arrest. “The indictment also alleges that the defendants confined a group of Thai guest workers at Maui Pineapple Farm and demanded an additional fee of $3,750 to keep their jobs with Global Horizons. Those workers who refused to pay the additional fee were sent back home to Thailand with unpaid debts, subjecting them to the high risk of losing their family homes and land.”
Air Ambulance Flies On
Back in March, as officials were hammering out Maui’s 2011 fiscal year budget, the County’s air ambulance program was one of the items on Mayor Tavares’s chopping block. And she took heat for it—from the community, the Council and her election opponents.
Flash forward six months and the Mayor’s office issued a statement touting the release of $672,215 to maintain the program. Of course, even as she took credit, Tavares couldn’t help but throw others under the bus (or helicopter, as it were).
“As we examined our budget restraints earlier this year I had hoped that the state Department of Health and Maui Memorial Medical Center could pay for this important service, which is under their jurisdiction,” she said.
Political squabbling aside, folks in the county’s rural reaches, particularly on Molokai and Lanai, should be glad the ambulance will continue to fly.
The Answer to Invasive Snake Headache? Headache Relief
In a story better suited for MauiTime contributor Chuck Shepherd’s News of the Weird, federal officials are trying to eradicate brown tree snakes in Guam with a painkiller available at every drugstore in the country. Turns out acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is fatal to the invasive reptile, which has wiped out native species in Guam and could wreak similar havoc in Hawaii. And so the U.S. Department of Agriculture is dropping dead mice loaded with the drug onto targeted regions of the U.S. territory; if the campaign is successful, it’ll be employed on a broader scale.
Unlike many eradication efforts, this one supposedly won’t harm the surrounding environment. According to a USDA study: “The advantages of using acetaminophen to reduce brown tree snake populations…outweigh the minimal risks to nontarget feral and wildlife species.”