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A story of modern slavery in Utah

Thais tricked, trapped and imported here to be slaves

Published: Sunday, Aug. 15 2010 1:01 a.m. MDT

Meanwhile, the Thai workers were caught in limbo. They were still in Utah — without passports and visas. Global Horizons was no longer taking them to work at Circle Four. They had no money.

Although Circle Four was satisfied with their work, Butler said it could not hire the Thais directly because they appeared to lack current visas and clearances to work.

Chan says Circle Four helped him and fellow Thai workers anyway. "They slaughtered some pigs for us, so we had something to eat," he says.

Butler added that because the Thai workers had no local support, "Circle Four provided them with food, clothing and financial assistance." Thai workers say McBean and Utah Legal Services also arranged help.

Butler declined to answer whether Circle Four had known about slavery-like conditions that workers had lived under while working at its farm. In a written comment, the company said that it considered the Thais as employees of Global Horizons and not its own employees.

Eventually, in February 2008, the Thais, Global Horizons and Circle Four reached a settlement — but the court sealed it. While all parties say they cannot discuss it, the Thai workers interviewed say they did not lose their farms in Thailand. So, presumably, they must have been paid enough to save them.

Because of the stories Thai workers in Utah told, McBean and Utah Legal Services helped them apply for "T visas" — given by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to victims of human trafficking, which by definition ranges from sex work to involuntary servitude, debt bondage or slavery.

They won those visas, meaning that at least one arm of the federal government believes they were victims of modern slavery. The visas give them up to four years of temporary residency in America and allow them to seek permanent residency after three years.

In applying for the visas, the Thais were required to report to law enforcement what happened to them and must be willing to cooperate with any investigation or prosecution of the perpetrators.

"We have an open investigation related to Global Horizons," Xochitl Hinojosa, spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Division — which includes the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit — told the Deseret News. "We have no further comment at this time."

Mother Jones magazine — an investigative publication — reported earlier this year that the probe into Global Horizons could become the largest human trafficking case in U.S. history because the company brought in more than 1,000 Thais in 2004 and 2005 before being banned from recruiting guest workers in 2006.

Global Horizons and Orian did not return numerous calls from the Deseret News seeking comment.

But Orian has talked to other news media in recent years as questions arose about Global Horizons' operations in several states.

For example, in 2005 when Washington state officials were investigating claims that Global was not paying Thai workers as promised and mistreating them, Orian told the Seattle Times that the charges had no merit. He said the probe hurt farmers and his company by delaying needed work.

Orian told the High Country News, based in Paonia, Colo., also in 2005 in a story about migrant workers, that "there's nothing better than the Thai people. They're humble, they're respectful and they go back home."

In 2007, when some Thais sued Global Horizons in Washington state, Orian told Seattle Weekly that licensing requirements he was accused of breaking were so murky that state and federal officials disagreed on what he had needed to do.

This year, he gave Mother Jones magazine a more extended interview. The magazine described him as a 44-year-old Israeli whose office, which sits in a tower on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, is "urbane and upbeat" and decorated with plenty of "blond wood."

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