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Modern Day Slavery In Florida

Typical gated community houses with palms, South Florida. Light effect applied

February 14, 2018

Marlyn Perez, a young, undocumented Guatemalan woman who picked fruit and vegetables, became what amounted to an indentured servant in Florida. She took a job at “C&C,” the anonymous- sounding brand of a truck-farm located in the semi-wild Devil’s Garden region, a few miles from Lake Okochobee. When Perez didn’t receive her full pay after a week’s work she went to the crew leader, Reyes Tapia-Ortiz. He shrugged, and said that was the going rate, nor was she free to leave. Perez found herself shackled to a routine of daily 10-12 hour shifts, mostly in the fields picking produce gummy with pesticide under a scorching sun, but sometimes in the packing house overnight, where her employer groped her and worse, and threatened her with a pistol if she complained. Deductions for food, rent, drink, and transportation reduced her daily pay of $35 to about $20. Organizations like National Human Trafficking Hotline find that 91 percent of cases of modern-day slavery in the agriculture industry involve foreign nationals, mostly in Florida. On February 10, a Federal District Court Judge in Ft. Myers ordered Tapia-Ortiz to pay $3.5 million dollars in damages to five farmworkers including Perez, a judgment he is unlikely to satisfy. The same court earlier found that Tapia-Ortiz had threatened to harm workers for complaining about not being paid for their work, “engaged in forced labor by brandishing a gun,” sexually harassed a female worker, and falsely imprisoned a worker.

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