An investigation by the Associated Press found that around 700 undocumented men from Southeast Asian and Pacific Island nations are working dangerous fishing jobs on American boats where they are confined for years. They found instances of human trafficking, tuberculosis, insufficient food supplies and 20-hour work days on many of the boats. Some of the workers are paid as little as 70 cents per hour. The fish they catch ends up at restaurants and grocery stores around the country, including Whole Foods and Costco.
The crux of the problem is a federal legal loophole: Because the workers are on American ships, they can’t be designated “foreign-based workers,” which would make them eligible for visas. Because they are only in the U.S. temporarily when they dock, they also aren’t eligible for immigrant visas. Instead, the workers are caught under a federal law that requires boat owners to detain the workers on the ship whenever they port.
The reporters previously helped uncover systematic slavery in the fishing industry on remote islands in Indonesia. Listen to them discuss their Pulitzer prize-winning investigation in an episode of the IRE Radio Podcast, “The Story That Freed Hundreds of Slaves.”