Yet another surprising line of work got added to the no-industry-is-free-of-slavery list today when a California couple was accused of forcing Filipino migrants to work in four elder care facilities. That’s right, we can even find modern-day slaves in nursing homes.
Maximo and Melinda Morales, both originally from the Philippines, owned a small chain of assisted-living facilities in California. When it came to staffing those homes, they quickly discovered that bringing migrants from their home country to the U.S. to work was a lot cheaper that hiring local labor. Investigators say that the Moraleses traveled to the Philippines and offered people in need of work the chance to make a good living in the U.S. In exchange for being smuggled in, workers would pay the couple between $3000 and $8000, as well as buy their own plane ticket. For several of the people they met, the offer sounded like the chance of a lifetime.
When the workers arrived in the U.S., however, the Moraleses confiscated their passports and told them they would need to work to pay off their debt. For some workers, they labored in the nursing homes for over a year before they received any wages at all. Sometimes they were forced to work 24-hour shifts, with very few days off, and were reduced to sleeping in hallways and closets in the homes. In addition to the horrible treatment, the Moraleses allegedly gave the workers a strict set of rules to follow, including: don’t talk to neighbors or the family members of residents, don’t take public transportation because of police checkpoints, don’t disobey your bosses, and lie to Social Service representatives about the number of caregivers at the home. The Moraleses indicated they were powerful and well-connected, and any breaking of the rules could mean trouble for the workers’ families back in the Philippines.
People who have family members living at elder care and assisted living facilities want to know their loved ones are being cared for by skilled, compassionate people — not slaves forced to stay awake for 24 hours at a time and living in fear. While the direct victims of this trafficking plot are the enslaved workers, the elderly residents of the Moraleses’ homes were almost certainly harmed by lack of appropriate care. How often did an error made by an overworked trafficking victim result in a serious health problem for someone’s mother or grandmother? Elder care is a demanding job that requires specific training and skills. As abhorrent as slavery in industries like manufacturing and agriculture is, a t-shirt or cocoa bean won’t die because the person processing it is enslaved. Human trafficking of caregivers creates a sphere of harm that goes far beyond the direct victims.
The situation at the nursing homes first came to light because of a concerned and aware citizen, a family member of one of the residents. Noticing some unusual activities, this person struck up some conversations with the workers there, who eventually confided their predicament. It’s one more example of how knowing what to look for can help anyone spot human trafficking. It also reiterates the importance of kindness and support for everyone we come across, whether they’re caring for our parents, cleaning our office, or assembling our burgers.
A little awareness helped save several migrant workers and even more elderly people from abuse and neglect. Imagine what a little awareness can do in your community.
Photo credit: ulrichkarljoho