Alleged Human Traffickers Stopped Before Immigrants Brought to Arizona


So-called human traffickers were apparently trying to set up shop in Arizona before authorities caught up to them.

According a May indictment of 12 people, including eight from Uzbekistan, the alleged traffickers had already brought several immigrants to Missouri for construction projects, intentionally allowing them to overstay their work visas. Court records show the immigrants were sleeping in lightly furnished apartments and threatened with deportation by their bosses if they questioned the arrangments.

One of the suspects lived in Arizona and was the nearly subject of an investigation by local agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, says ICE spokesman Vincent Picard.

"We were contacted for assistance by the agents in Kansas City," Picard says. "Before things got underway, the person moved."

The indictment mentions the minor Arizona connection: Defendant Kristen Dougherty is implicated in an e-mail that mentions the creation of labor-leasing contracts in the state. One might assume that had the feds not intervened, the Uzbeks would have brought their "employees" here, as well.

Arizona has never had a documented case of modern slavery (though some consider child prostitution the same as "human trafficking). We think the absence of such cases here is rather odd, if human trafficking is the problem activists say it is. Phoenix is so close the international border, you'd think a few forced-labor sweatshops would have been exposed by now. Sometimes we get the feeling that modern slavery in the United States is about as common as satanic child sacrifice.

Even this Missouri case doesn't qualify as slavery in our book. Judging by the facts in the indictment, it was more like a gentler version of 18th-century indentured servitude. At any point, it seems, the illegal immigrant workers could have walked off the job. True, they might have been deported -- (unless they moved to Arizona and got hooked up with some quality IDs) -- but deportation to one's home country isn't in the same ballpark as being tied to a post and whipped, "Southern Man"-style.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.