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Effects of modern day slavery hits home

By Staff | Feb 28, 2010

It resembled an ordinary freight truck, but inside it documented more than 100 years of slavery in Southwest Florida.
Over the weekend the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community advocacy organization working to improve the lives of migrant farm workers, kicked off the tour of its Modern-Day Slavery Museum, a 24-foot truck that is a replica of one referenced in a recent slavery case.
The tour opened in Cape Coral Sunday, first at Grace United Methodist Church in the morning and later at St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church, and will travel across the state to promote the organization’s anti-slavery message.
When members of the CIW talk about slavery they aren’t referring to the type seen hundreds of years ago. Instead, they describe a more furtive, precarious version where slavery is defined as indentured servitude and human trafficking.
And many of these modern cases aren’t from our parents’ or grand-parents’ generations. Since 1997 there have been seven cases of modern slavery prosecuted in federal court, including the most recent U.S. vs. Navarrete in 2008.
Julia Perkins, a staff member with CIW, said the truck used for the museum was the same type used to lock up workers in the Navarrete case. She said workers were left in the truck overnight, some shackled in chains, and others physically beaten. They were eventually able to escape by climbing through a gap in the roof of the truck and they sought out law enforcement, she said.
“They were able to escape and went to law enforcement and luckily they were well trained in this issue,” said Perkins. “It was an amazing collaboration between local law enforcement and the FBI.”
Displayed next to the truck was the shirt of a 17-year-old farm worker brutally beaten by his supervisor in 2006 after stopping to take a drink in the fields. Also scattered throughout the museum are photographs of the rough living conditions some South Florida farm workers experienced over the last century.
Cases of modern slavery have been reported in local, national and international publications, said Perkins, including National Geographic Magazine and The New Yorker. Even as advocates from the CIW continue to educate the public on examples of modern slavery, other horrific examples are being identified and it seems many people still aren’t familiar with the issue.
“There are other cases under investigation now,” she said.
Activists also devoted time to worker compensation, including pries paid for produce picked.
Hundreds of people from the Grace United Methodist toured the museum Sunday morning before it moved to St. Katharine Drexel. One congregation member even informed CIW organizers that he sat on the grand jury for the Navarrete case and confirmed the details posted in the museum.
Volunteers with St. Katharine Drexel regularly collect clothing, toys, shoes and books for Immokalee farm workers and their families, explained Adele Lewis, a liaison between the church’s Immokalee Day Mission and the CIW. They also join volunteers from Grace United Methodist to sing for 200 Haitian, Mexican and Guatemalan children in Immokalee’s Guadalupe Center.
Lewis said she is passionate about the CIW’s cause.
“I became interested once I saw their plight,” said Lewis. “And to get rid of slavery, I know there have been instances of slavery and that needs to stop.”
For more information on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, visit www.ciw-online.org.