Saturday, November 16, 2019
Hawai'i Free Press

Current Articles | Archives

Monday, September 20, 2010
NYT: In an Ugly Human-Trafficking Case, Hawaii Forgets Itself
By Selected News Articles @ 8:34 PM :: 9238 Views :: Agriculture, Labor
In an Ugly Human-Trafficking Case, Hawaii Forgets Itself

By LAWRENCE DOWNES New York Times September 20, 2010

This is a story of two farmers, Laotian immigrant brothers who grow vegetables in Hawaii. People love their onions, melons, Asian cabbage, herbs and sweet corn, and their Halloween pumpkin patch is a popular field trip for schoolchildren all over Oahu. They count local politicians and community leaders among their many friends, and run a charitable foundation.

Though they are relative newcomers, their adopted home is a state that honors its agricultural history, where most longtime locals are descendants of immigrant plantation workers. The brothers fit right in.

But they had an ugly secret. A captive work force: forty-four men, laborers from Thailand who were lured to Hawaii in 2004 with promises of good wages, housing and food. The workers sacrificed dearly to make the trip, mortgaging family land and homes to pay recruiters steep fees of up to $20,000 each.

According to a federal indictment, the workers’ passports were taken away. They were set up in cramped, substandard housing — some lived in a shipping container. Many saw their paychecks chiseled with deductions for food and expenses; some toiled in the fields for no net pay. Workers were told not to complain or be sent home, with no way to repay their unbearable debts.

The news broke last August. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice filed charges of forced labor and visa fraud. The farm owners agreed to plead guilty in December in Federal District Court to conspiring to commit forced labor. They admitted violating the rules of the H-2A guest worker program, telling the workers that their labor contracts were “just a piece of paper” used to deceive the federal government.

I wish I could say that at this point the case so shocked the Hawaiian public that people rushed to aid the immigrants, who reminded them so much of their parents and grandparents. That funds were raised and justice sought.

But that didn’t happen.

In an astounding display of amnesia and misplaced sympathy, Hawaii rallied around the defendants. After entering their plea deal, the farmers, Michael and Alec Sou of Aloun Farms, orchestrated an outpouring of letters begging the judge for leniency at sentencing. Business leaders, community activists, politicians — even two former governors, Benjamin Cayetano and John Waihee, and top executives at First Hawaiian Bank — joined a parade attesting to the brothers’ goodness.

The men were paragons of diversified agriculture and wise land use, the letter writers said. They had special vegetable knowledge that nobody else had, and were holding the line against genetically modified crops. If they went to prison, evil developers would pave their farmland. Think of the “trickle down impact,” one woman implored the judge. Besides, their produce was delicious.

The friends pleaded for probation, fines, anything but prison. The workers, now scattered to uncertain fates and still in debt, have seen no such empathy.

The Sous were supposed to have been sentenced months ago, but at a hearing in July they made statements that muddled and seemed to contradict their plea agreement. The vexed judge, Susan Oki Mollway, postponed sentencing to Sept. 9, so they could get their story straight. Back in court this month, the men recanted some of their sworn testimony, so the judge threw the plea deal out. Now there will be a trial in November.

Another shocking story emerged in Honolulu this month: a federal grand jury indicted six people on charges of enslaving 400 Thai farm workers on Maui and elsewhere — the largest trafficking case in American history. In Hawaii, no uproar ensued. The pumpkin-patch field trips are still booked.

Hawaii has a state motto: Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono, or the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. Hawaiians use “pono” to mean what is just or right, in harmony with nature and with other people. The words hang on huge bronze seals at the State Capitol, and I feel sure that most longtime residents of Hawaii can easily recall and recite them, in Hawaiian and English.

Whether some of them ever think about what the motto means, or care, is another question.

---30---

RELATED: Green hypocrites: Case & Omidyar’s Maui Land & Pine tied to human trafficking case

Links

TEXT "follow HawaiiFreePress" to 40404

Register to Vote

2aHawaii

808 Silent Majority

808 State Update AM940

ABCDEFG Blog

ACA Signups Hawaii

ACCE

ALEC

Alliance Defending Freedom

Aloha Life Advocates

Aloha Pregnancy Care Center

American Council of Trustees and Alumni

American Mothers of Hawaii

AMVETS-Hawaii

AntiPlanner

Antonio Gramsci Reading List

A Place for Women in Waipio

Audit The Rail

Ballotpedia Hawaii

Better Hawaii 

Blaisdell Memorial Project

Broken Trust 

Build More Hawaiian Homes Working Group

CAFR Hawaii

Castaway Conservative

Children's Alliance Hawaii

Children's Rights Institute

ChinaTownWatch.com

Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii

Citizens for Recall

Cliff Slater's Second Opinion

Coffee Break

Conservative Forum for Hawaii

CSIS Pacific Forum

DAR Hawaii

DeedySupport.com

DVids Hawaii

E Hana Kakou Kelii Akina

E Māua Ola i Moku o Keawe

Farmers For Choice Hawaii

FIRE

Fix Oahu!

Follow the Money Hawaii

Frank in Hawaii

Front Page Magazine

Frontline: The Fixers

Genetic Literacy Project

Get Off Your Butts!

God, Freedom, America

Grassroot Institute

Habele.org

Hawaii Aganst Assisted Suicide

Hawaii Aquarium Fish Report

Hawaii Aviation Preservation Society

Hawaii Catholic TV

Hawaii Christian Coalition

Hawaii Cigar Association

Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling

Hawaii ConCon Info

Hawaii Credit Union Watch

Hawaii Crime Victims' Rights

Hawaii Crop Improvement Association

Hawaii Debt Clock

Hawaii Defending Marriage

Hawaii Defense Foundation

Hawaii Families for Educational Choice

Hawaii Family Advocates

Hawaii Family Forum

Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United

Hawaii Farmer's Daughter

Hawaii Federalist Society

Hawaii Federation of Republican Women

Hawaii Firearm Community

Hawaii Fishermen's Alliance

Hawaii Future Project

Hawaii Gathering of Eagles

Hawaii History Blog

Hawaii Homeschool Association

Hawaii Jihadi Trial

Hawaii March for Life

Hawaii Meth Project

Hawaii's Partnership for Appropriate & Compassionate Care

Hawaii Public Charter School Network

Hawaii Rifle Association

Hawaii Right to Life -- Big Island

Hawaii Right to Life -- Oahu

Hawaii Shield Law Coalition

Hawaii Shippers Council

Hawaii Smokers Alliance

Hawaii State Data Lab

Hawaii Together

Heritage Foundation

HI Coalition Against Legalized Gambling

HIEC.Coop 

HiFiCo

Hiram Fong Papers

Homeschool Legal Defense Hawaii

Honolulu Homeless Crisis

Honolulu Navy League

Honolulu Traffic

Horns of Jericho Blog

House Minority Blog

House Republican Caucus YouTube

HPACC

Hump Day Report

I Vote Hawaii

If Hawaii News

Imua TMT

Inouye-Kwock, NYT 1992

Inside the Nature Conservancy

Inverse Condemnation

Investigative Project on Terrorism

Iowa Meets Maui

Jackson v Abercrombie

Jihad Watch

Judgepedia Hawaii

July 4 in Hawaii

Kahle v New Hope

Kakaako Cares

Kau TEA Party

Kauai Co GOP

Keep Hawaii's Heroes

KeyWiki

Land and Power in Hawaii

Legislative Committee Analysis Tool

Lessons in Firearm Education

Lingle Years

Malulani Foundation

Managed Care Matters -- Hawaii

Malama Pregnancy Center of Maui

Mauna Kea Recreational Users Group

MentalIllnessPolicy.org

Middle East Forum--The Legal Project

Mililani Conservatives for Change

Military Home Educators' Network Oahu

Missile Defense Advocacy

MIS Veterans Hawaii

Muslim Brotherhood in America

NAMI Hawaii

NARTH

Natatorium.org

National Christian Foundation Hawaii

National Parents Org Hawaii

National Wind Watch

New Zeal

NFIB Hawaii News

No GMO Means No Aloha

Northwest Economic Policy Seminar

Not Dead Yet, Hawaii

Now What I Really Think

NRA-ILA Hawaii

Oahu Alternative Transport

ObamaCare Abortion Hawaii

Obookiah

OHA Lies

Opt Out Today

OurFutureHawaii.com

Pacific Aviation Museum

Patients Rights Council Hawaii

PEACE Hawaii

People vs Machine

Pritchett Cartoons 

Pro-GMO Hawaii

P.U.E.O.

RailRipoff.com

Rental by Owner Awareness Assn

Republican Party -- Hawaii State

Research Institute for Hawaii USA

Rick Hamada Show

RJ Rummel

Robotics Organizing Committee

Salvage The Rail

Save the Plastic Bag

School Choice in Hawaii

SenatorFong.com

SIFE Remington

SIFE W. Oahu 

Sink the Jones Act

Smart About Marijuana--Hawaii

St Marianne Cope

State Budget Solutions Hawaii

State Policy Network

Statehood for Guam

Tax Foundation of Hawaii

The Harriet Tubman Agenda

The Long War Journal

The Real Hanabusa

Time Out Honolulu

Truth About Trade & Technology - Hawaii

UCC Truths

Union Members Know Your Rights

US Tax Foundation Hawaii Info

Valor in the Pacific

VAREP Honolulu

Waagey.org

West Maui Taxpayers Association

What Natalie Thinks

Whole Life Hawaii

Yes2TMT