Immigration Policy Importing Slavery
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(Also by Carl F. Horowitz: "Natural Conservatives:" 9/11 And The Myth Of The Uncorrupted Immigrant)

Forget about Trent Lott and segregation – what about slavery?

In the U.S., it's supposedly been extinct for well over a century. But Kevin Nanji and Louisa Satia, a Cameroonian immigrant husband and wife with children in Silver Spring, Md., apparently hadn't gotten the message.

The couple, ages 40 and 36, respectively, were convicted in federal court in December 2001 on enslaving a teenaged girl from Cameroon over a three-year period. The girl, whose name was withheld by prosecutors, testified that the couple had used a bogus passport to bring her into the U.S. from that African country in December 1996. They told her she would be employed as domestic help while attending high school—a work-study program of sorts. Instead, she testified, she was forced into total servitude. To punish "mistakes" and discourage escape, Louisa Satia repeatedly assaulted the girl, using such methods as beatings and sprayings of cleaning fluid in her eyes.

In November 1999, the girl finally did escape, and called a friend for help. That in turn led to the arrest not only of Satia and her husband, but also her sister, Vivian, and her husband, Etiondem Daniel Achamorfaw. The latter couple pled guilty in February 2001 after helping to lure the girl, plus another teenager from Cameroon, Christi Elangwe, into America for enslavement.

Satia and Kevin in March of 2002 were ordered to pay their victim $105,306.64 - the estimated value of her labor, at a little more than $12 an hour. The court earlier had required Vivian and Etiondem to provide $150,000 in restitution to their own former slave, Ms. Elangwe.

Here, at least, the story had a happy ending. Not so last November in Oakland County, Michigan, where Joseph and Evelyn Djoumessi, a Detroit-area couple also from Cameroon, had forcibly kept a teenaged girl from that country as an unpaid maid and nanny.

Mrs. Djoumessi's punishment from Circuit Judge Alice Gilbert—brace yourself—was three years of probation during which she would have to do her own housework.

Why is it that slavery, that peculiar institution, has suddenly been on a roll in this country, with stories like these popping up in any number of states?

The explanation: high levels of legal immigration - hardly limited to Cameroon. It's just another problem that we are importing through public policy.

In the late 1990s, federal intelligence estimated that an astonishing 50,000-100,000 women each year come to this country only to find themselves in a state of servitude to an employer and/or family. The Protection Project, an anti-human trafficking program based at Johns Hopkins University,  estimates that up to 750,000 such women have been brought to the U.S. in the last decade.

Trafficking in human bodies can be much more than a Mom-and-Pop operation. In 1999, for example, federal prosecutors indicted an Atlanta-based prostitution ring run by Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants. The smugglers over time had managed to bring in nearly 1,000 girls and women from various East Asian countries, subsequently farming them out to brothels in 16 states. The females, saddled with "travel costs" at $30,000 to $40,000 a head, had no way to repay their debt except by becoming prostitutes. [See David France, "Slavery's New Face," Newsweek, December 18, 2000].

There's some serious money in all this. According to Marie-Jose Ragab, president of the Dulles Area Chapter of the National Organization for Women, prostitution brings in about 20 percent to 25 percent of the $600 billion-$1.5 trillion that racketeers pump into the worldwide economy. (See Irina Sandul, "East European Women Trapped in Sex Slavery," Washington Times, March 11, 2001).

In speaking of "slavery," it's important to get our terminology correct. A master-slave relationship, in this context, does not refer to—how shall one delicately put this in a family webzine—unusual voluntary expressions of human sexuality involving a dominant and submissive partner. Slavery is involuntary unpaid servitude, usually of an indefinite tenure, to another person, family or employer.

The slave performs any and all tasks to the owner's satisfaction. The owner decides whether, and when, to terminate the required service. Should the slave attempt to make this decision on his or her own - i.e., escape - the owner may resort to violent force to prevent this from happening.

I offer no defense of slavery in the antebellum South. But there is something galling about multiculturalist radicals and black civil-rights leaders who ceaselessly "remind" us that once upon a time our nation allowed slavery, and thus that white Americans must pay reparations to the living descendants of yesteryear's black slaves.

Paradoxically, such people become apoplectic at the sight of a Confederate flag - but show visible irritation over encountering documentation of contemporary slavery elsewhere.

A quick world survey reveals much to be irritated about, at least for the morally consistent.

In Sudan, where civil war has raged for nearly two decades and taken some two million lives, the Islamic government has revived the ancient practice of slave-raiding, kidnapping large numbers of Christians and animists into servitude. According to the State Department's own human rights report for 2001, India is home to more than 2.3 million women and children forced into prostitution. Yet despite being either unable or unwilling to punish any of the perpetrators, India earned a passing grade. So did Thailand, where government officials routinely accept bribes from owners of brothels where children are forced into prostitution—and in some cases are the owners. Meanwhile, the Haitian government estimates that 300,000 youths in its country are restaveks, or child slaves.

The U.S. State Department this June, in its second annual Trafficking in Persons Report, announced that somewhere between 700,000 and 4 million people each year worldwide become victims of human trafficking (i.e., slaves). Washington now blacklists some 19 nations for noncompliance with our Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Those that remain on the list next year will be subject to certain non-trade sanctions such as U.S. opposition to IMF, World Bank and other international financial aid.

Here's a partial list: Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

You want to do a good turn for humanity? Don't visit these places.

Foreign officials can be brazen at times in defending the custom. Back in 1986, the head of Iran's "judiciary" remarked "Your wife is your possession, in fact, your slave."

Slavery is an especially thorny issue for Muslims. Princeton University's Bernard Lewis, who probably knows more about the history of Islam than any person alive, has said the subject is so sensitive that scholars risk their own careers or even lives investigating it.

So things are not rosy elsewhere. But what else is new? Of primary concern to us are the slaves who are coming to America.

That child slavery in Haiti flourishes is bad enough. That Haitians are exporting it to South Florida (Tim Padgett, "Of Haitian Bondage," Newsweek, March 5, 2001) is far worse.

National Review's John J. Miller, though an immigration enthusiast of the Right, recently got plenty piqued about slavery in the Islamic world. In "The Unknown Slavery," (National Review, May 20, 2002), he provided a lucid history of slavery in the Middle East under Islamic rule. He properly noted that the first Islamic countries to abolish slavery—Tunisia, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire—did so because of enormous pressure from the West, not because of any burst of moral conscience on the part of Muslims.

Unfortunately, our friend Mr. Miller did not follow through on the logic of his argument - not for the first time. For if in fact the Islamic world has not disavowed slavery, clearly we should scrutinize far more carefully permanent resident visa applications from these countries - and possibly ban their issuance altogether.

To admit that limiting slavery means limiting immigration—at least from some countries—was apparently the final mile that Miller would not walk.

Immigration enthusiasts of the Left likewise stop short of thinking the unthinkable. Their goal seems to be to turn our nation into a universal sanctuary for those who have suffered the pathologies of primitive cultures. Congress two years ago created "T-visas" and "U-visas," of which up to 5,000 and 10,000, respectively, each year would be available. In varying ways these visas would allow illegal immigrants who are victims of human trafficking and other domestic crimes to stay in this country if they cooperate with authorities.

Perhaps these provisions, which originated with the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, will indeed protect innocent victims. But they are emblematic of a seemingly trained inability to grasp the larger context of an issue. Both types of visas are a case of mopping up a flooded floor instead of fixing the faulty faucet that caused the flood. They provide a convenient pretext for avoiding the hard question of how so many slave owners get into the U.S.

How, then, should we proceed in keeping slavery out of this country? Neither moral reasoning nor a recitation of the 13th Amendment will make much of an impression upon slave-owners. Neither will the anti-trafficking provisions enacted two years ago, which provide for potential life sentences for slave traffickers/owners. There is no guarantee against slave traffickers, large- or small-scale, becoming more guileful in avoiding detection. Trafficking, by nature, requires a high degree of guile.

Persuading foreign governments to ban slavery may have little or no effect. A ban already is in effect for many nations where the practice is prevalent. Mauritania, for instance, outlawed slavery in 1980, as it previously had done in 1905 and 1960. These bans have provided no comfort to the estimated 100,000 or more people now held as slaves in that nation of 2.7 million people.

These approaches will make little headway in societies where masters, the larger their stable of slaves the better, are esteemed community members. In Haiti ownership of child slaves is so ingrained that owners who come here have no awareness they are breaking the law. They honestly believe they are helping their slaves, much as master craftsmen tutor apprentices. Likewise in Mauritania slavery is an accepted way of life. "Owning slaves is just like owning flocks; it's a symbol of prestige," notes Mauritanian anti-slavery activist Nassar Yessa. (Stephanie Casler, "Mauritania Has Slavery, Activists Tell Audiences," Washington Times, November 20, 2001).

It's the job of Congress and the executive branch to make sure that such bad shepherds not only are deported, but that they don't get into this country in the first place. The long-run goal should be to keep slavery out rather than unthinkingly importing it and then freeing the slaves after the fact. By permitting large-scale immigration from the Third World and Eastern Europe, we ensure an inexhaustible supply both of victims to protect and victimizers to punish.

One sensible approach to keeping out slavery: restrict immigration generally. Steven Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, calls for such a course of action to promote national security in the context of the Islamic fundamentalist menace. "Reducing legal immigration from the Mideast is a sensible policy," he wrote on September 16, 2002), "but the only way this could ever happen would be the enactment of an immigration cap that would apply across the board—to all immigrants, wherever they might hail from."

Yet, in assuming moral equivalence among all nations, we would be telling law-abiding potential immigrants from Holland and France they must stay home in order to pay for the sins of slave owners already here from Haiti and Cameroon. Ideally, we should pursue a dual strategy of lowering overall immigration ceilings and restricting admissions by region/country.

Here are two major steps in the right direction.

#1 Congress should repeal the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, created in 1990. This program makes available 50,000 resident visa slots annually on a random worldwide basis, and is open only to persons from nations that have sent no more than 50,000 immigrants here over the previous five-year period. In the most recent lottery the State Department awarded diversity visas to persons from 185 nations, including the seven on its own list of terrorism sponsors—Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. Are some of these applicants practitioners of slavery? It's entirely possible. Getting full disclosure, however, could be difficult in light of the Associated Press's revelation this August that the State Department had destroyed millions of unsuccessful applications, using high-speed shredders nicknamed "Igor One" and "Igor Two."

#2 Congress should restore the pre-1965 national immigration quotas. These quotas were explicitly oriented toward Western Europe, Canada, Australia and elsewhere in the Western World—in other words, from nations least likely to have a slavery problem.

Reestablishing this system, at least on some modified basis, would be a giant step in preventing the importation of slavery.

Of course, there will be the usual charges of racism. That is the price of keeping slavery out. We must respond without apology: Some nations are better than others.

That is, by virtue of their cultures and legal systems, nations without slavery are more attractive sources of immigration to the U.S.

It is naïve to expect sociopaths, once exposed to a culture of liberty, will walk down that straight and narrow path. Those from abroad who practice or support slavery (to say nothing of female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and honor killings) are not likely to change simply because they come to America. What we call crime here, constitutes "honor" there.

There is no inherent contradiction between fighting for human rights abroad and limiting immigration to the U.S.

In contemporary America, immigration restriction is the best abolitionism.

If Frederick Douglass or William Lloyd Garrison were around today, they certainly would concur.

Carl F. Horowitz (send him email) is a consultant to the Center for Immigration Studies. He has a Ph.D. in urban planning and has served as a policy analyst with The Heritage Foundation and a correspondent for Investor's Business Daily.


December 27, 2002


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