In 2006, Saket Soni worked as a labor organizer in New Orleans. One day, he received a disturbing phone call late at night; The man on the other end was desperate for his help.
The caller, an Indian migrant worker, told Soni that he had been lured to the U.S. by a company called Signal International. The deal was that he and other workers of similar backgrounds would fix oil rigs damaged by Hurricane Katrina while working toward paying for green cards.
The reality was dark: hundreds of men who’d been promised the same path to citizenship lived in Signal-sanctioned camps under appalling conditions. Recruiters charged the workers $20,000 per green card, forcing them to put their houses and other assets on the hook. In truth, there was no green card on the horizon — they were temporary workers that Signal could send home at any time.
“We made the case that this was not just garden variety labor abuse or even awful conditions. This was actually forced labor and human trafficking,” Soni says. “They were not free to leave, not because they were trapped by a lock and key, but because their debts kept them — even past the point that their visas expired, even when they were undocumented — kept them at work and inside Signal’s labor camps.”
Soni was eventually able to locate the men and help them escape. They marched to Washington, D.C. to publicize their plight and find a way to stay in the U.S. He details that journey in his new book, "The Great Escape: A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America."
Book excerpt: 'The Great Escape: A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America'
By Saket Soni
From "The Great Escape: A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America" © 2023 by Saket Soni. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books.”
This segment aired on March 6, 2023.