The truth is profit-driven exploitation and trafficking of people of marginalized identities is not only state-sanctioned, it is foundational to the US.
State-sanctioned labor exploitation, slavery, and human trafficking are bedrock institutions of the colonial US nation-state, to this day. The trafficking and enslavement of millions of people of African descent was abhorrently abused by every industry for profit. The US then used slave/slave-like labor and human trafficking for its prejudiced, violent settler-colonialism such as the forced relocation and internment camps of people of Japanese descent, the brutal forced removal of Indigenous Americans and later the abusive and exploitative “adoptions” of Indigenous American children, leading to up to 35% of Indigenous children as recently as 1974 being ripped from their families and cultures, as well as reconcentrados or concentration camps of Pilipinx people during US colonization, contributing to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands.
Today, these institutions continue as intersecting systems of profit-driven oppression that target and exploit people of different marginalized identities for profit. The US continues to empower profit-driven human trafficking and labor exploitation, such as through guest-work visa programs. Despite numerous reports of labor violations and exploitation and the administration’s previous pledges, guest-work programs were recently increased through Congress and the Department of Homeland Security after industry lobbying. Corporations contract “labor brokers” who, often deceitfully, solicit labor for the visa program from around the world. Migrant or “guest” workers are then underpaid or unpaid in poorly regulated and dangerous conditions, and often have identity documents stolen or destroyed to manipulate and detain workers.
Workers who have their documentation stolen or destroyed are then vulnerable to further exploitation. Across the country, undocumented migrants captured and placed in immigration detention centers are also made to do unpaid or underpaid labor in a system plagued by slow processing due to immigration court backlogs. This then contributes to multi-billion dollar profits reported by detention corporations and booming industry for bail bonds companies that also intrusively GPS track their clients. All the while this system of capture and exploitation is facilitated by a government enforcing procedures mandating 34,000 beds in detention centers be filled everyday while allowing failures in basic procedures leading to the government placing migrant children with human traffickers.
Non-migrants are also targeted by this capture and labor exploitation through the justice system. Poor communities are targeted by money bail and the private bail bonds industry, a practice only legal in the US and the Philippines, a land that the US colonized. In the US, almost 70% of those in jail today have not been convicted of a crime and are in jail because they could not pay bail. And with an also overloaded and backlogged justice system, people can spend years in jail, without a trial. Even those not suspected such as witnesses to crimes are placed in jail having committed no crime.
Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are disproportionately poor and affected by these systems. BIPOC are also often criminalized and regularly perceived as more threatening, even when no threat exists, that in fact Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately incarcerated and/or arrested. As well, other justice policies like HIV status disclosure laws often disproportionately and unreasonably target queer and trans BIPOC. While so-called “bathroom bills” and indecent exposure laws additionally criminalize transgender people who are also often maliciously profiled under solicitation laws.
The system also criminalizes disability by framing disabled people as aberrant or threatening. This disablism manifests as early as in school-age children where disabled students are disproportionately detained, accounting for over 25% of all school arrests. Still other policies like mandatory arrests in intimate partner/domestic violence can often target survivors instead of perpetrators and can criminalize self-defense. In fact a clear majority of women in incarceration are survivors of physical or sexual violence.
All this profit-driven criminalization of people of marginalized identities sustains and supplies the multi-billion dollar prison industrial-complex. As of 2009, money bail is now the most common court practice, used 61% of the time from 37% in 1990, with for-profit bail bond usage up to 49%. Thus the bail bond industry and insurers who underwrite their bonds have an extremely lucrative industry profiting about $2 billion annually in an invasive practice that includes tracking clients’ social media and plate numbers.
Even programs that ostensibly aim to reduce incarceration such as diversion or rehabilitation programs perpetrate this same trafficking and labor exploitation. Courts across the nation have sent even those without convictions to Christian “rehabilitation” programs, which are actually labor camps, working brutal unpaid/underpaid conditions for several multi-national corporations. If sent to prison, incarcerated people (who are disproportionately Black), do the same: unpaid or extremely underpaid, often forced labor. Prisons then contract with corporations and associations to produce goods, a process empowered by the government which even creates programs to facilitate corporations’ use of prison labor.
In fact the US itself profits highly from incarceration. State governments in the US are reliant on labor of the incarcerated, providing services in every US state from battling wildfires in California to the cleanup of Hurricane Irma in Florida. Meanwhile, local officials are highly incentivized to incarcerate and fill the system past capacity because state-level governments contract lucrative agreements with local jurisdictions to use local or county jails to house state prison overflow. In some counties this profit generating industry can account for up to 7% of the county budget. And while some might purport that this is all speculation and not something prison or state officials have verified, the truth is they already have.
The truth is profit-driven exploitation and trafficking of people of marginalized identities is not only state-sanctioned, it is foundational to the US. Today’s labor and trafficking at the intersection of systems of oppression and corporatocratic economy are direct descendants in a long history of repugnant US institutions. Institutions, that are not merely allowed, but supported, valorized, and even enshrined in the Constitution through the 13th Amendment. The truth is the “American dream” is one built on stolen lands, slave labor, and human trafficking. The truth is it’s a dream that values profits over human lives.