The teens grew up more than 2,500 miles from central Ohio, in the western highlands of Guatemala.
They were impoverished. The smuggler promised them a chance at a better life in America in exchange for $15,000. To help pay, some of their families traded the deeds to their homes.
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Once the teens made the dangerous trip north and crossed the border, most were detained by the border patrol and then turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as unaccompanied minors. It was the job of HHS to place them with a relative or adult sponsor, and the smuggler had a network of accomplices who posed as sponsors for the boys.
Instead of being safely settled, they were brought to Ohio, and forced to live and work in virtual slavery to pay off their debts.
Their case is at the heart of “Trafficked in America,” a new documentary from FRONTLINE and the Investigative Reporting Program at U.C. Berkeley that goes inside the hidden world of labor trafficking — and explores how U.S. government policies and practices helped to deliver some teens directly to their traffickers.
“We’ve got these kids. They’re here. They’re living on our soil and for us to just, you know, assume someone else is gonna take care of them and throw them to the wolves, which is what HHS was doing, is flat out wrong,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), whose subcommittee investigates the failures of the government’s handling of unaccompanied minors, tells FRONTLINE in the above excerpt from the documentary. “I don’t care what you think about immigration policy. It’s wrong.”
The documentary goes inside the major 2014 labor trafficking case involving the Guatemalan teens, who were forced by a third-party contractor to work against their will at Trillium Farms in Ohio — one of the country’s largest egg producers. While the alleged mastermind of the trafficking scheme is now in federal custody, Trillium itself has not been charged with any wrongdoing. In his first on-camera interview, the company’s vice president, J.T. Dean, tells FRONTLINE that Trillium had no knowledge of the trafficked teens working at their plants.
Watch “Trafficked in America” starting April 24th, 2018: https://to.pbs.org/2EGIzgl
FRONTLINE is streaming more than 200 documentaries online, for free, here: http://to.pbs.org/hxRvQP
FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding is provided by the Abrams Foundation, the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation. Major support for FRONTLINE and for Trafficked in America is provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional support for this program is provided by the International Documentary Association and The Ford Foundation.