Last summer, I interviewed a slave. Her name is Ima Matul, and she is a native of Indonesia who was brought to southern California as a teenager with the promise of a job working as a household maid.
She got the job.
The rest will be familiar to those familiar with modern-day slavery in the United States: The family for whom she was to work took her passport and separated her from her cousin, with whom she had come to the U.S. The cousin was sent to work in another home. Ima Matul was, needless to say, never paid — the family said they were simply keeping the money safe for her until she returned home. She worked 18 hours a day or more. She was cut off from all communication, beaten, and abused. She was told that if she were to try to run away, she’d be arrested as an illegal immigrant and taken to prison, where she would be held indefinitely with no passport or other identification, and where she would certainly be raped.
#related#She eventually escaped, with the help of a sympathetic nanny next door and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking in Los Angeles.
The humiliation, terror, and betrayal of her experience has never really left her, though she speaks about her experience with remarkable calm.
The promised money wasn’t very much: $150 a week. “It was more money than I could ever make at home,” she says. “And coming to the United States sounded like the best thing I could think of.”
To a person in her situation — young, not having much in the way of resources or connections, experiencing family troubles (as a teenager, she’d been forced into a marriage with a considerably older man), and having little hope for happiness or advancement — working as a domestic servant abroad sounds like something bordering on deliverance. Many people in a similar plight make it to the United States. Many are cruelly disappointed by what awaits them.
And some suffer much, much worse — unspeakable bondage.
Republicans, inspired in no small part by the fact that Christian conservatives — they refer to themselves, not unjustly, as “abolitionists” — have taken up the cause, have put forward important legal reforms. (And it is not Republicans alone, to be sure.) There are important steps that need to be taken, for example ensuring that children who are victims of sex trafficking are not prosecuted as prostitutes or illegal immigrants when and if they are arrested.
Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) has offered a bill that would use fines levied on convicted human traffickers to fund services for victims of human trafficking — for liberated slaves. And his bill would do more than that: It would fund task forces and investigative units dedicated to breaking up trafficking rings. The bill contains language that is horrible to contemplate in the 21st century: “trafficking with respect to peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor.”
Who could be against such a bill?
Senator Harry Reid, for one. The Nevada Democrat and Senate minority leader boasts of his pro-life record, and advertises the many occasions upon which he has voted against government funding of abortions. In the United States, the public funding of abortion is generally prohibited through “Hyde amendments,” commonplace statutory language that goes back to the earliest post-Roe days that ensures, out of a decent respect for the consciences of individual Americans, that none of them is forced by the government to participate financially in abortion. Senator Cornyn’s bill contains such a provision, and Democrats are pretending to be surprised by that. The truth is that they are taking a beating in their new minority status, while their national leadership is embroiled in a series of scandals and failures. A fight over abortion, they calculate, might be just the thing — and there’s always the chance that Republicans will help them out by having an obscure backbencher from nowhere proffer an innovative theory about reproductive biology.
But there is no way around the fact: Some 150 years after Gettysburg, the Democrats are still filibustering on behalf of slaveholders. All that talk about being “on the right side of history” and they cannot even get on the right side of slavery. Modern slavery’s victims may cry out, but Harry Reid and EMILY’s List have the bigger megaphone.
“I wanted a better life,” says Ima Matul, freed slave. She eventually got it.
Too many others are waiting.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.