Teens Forced Into Modern Slavery By Illegal Immigrant

For most of the past decade, Castillo-Serrano, a 33-year-old Guatemalan, has been in the U.S. illegally. On Monday, he pleaded guilty in federal court in Cleveland to single counts of forced labor conspiracy, forced labor, witness tampering and encouraging illegal entry into the country. His sentencing date is to be set. He forced Guatemalan teenagers to work as virtual slaves on an egg farm, despite promising them a better life. In some cases, prosecutors say, he made victims' family members sign over deeds to their property in Guatemala to pay for transporting the boys, with assurances they would be enrolled in school here. He never kept his end of the bargain. U.S. immigration policy dictates that unaccompanied minors trying to escape dangerous situations can't be turned away.

Once the teens were in federal custody, false paperwork was submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement. Castillo-Serrano instead paid drivers known as "coyotes" whisked the boys to Ohio, where they essentially went underground, forced to work long hours, live in dilapidated trailers and hand over most of their earnings to pay for their passage to the U.S. Federal agents found 10 victims — eight teens and two men in their 20s — in this case, but witnesses say many others had been brought to the U.S. from Guatemala through Castillo-Serrano's pipeline.

David Leopold, a Cleveland immigration attorney familiar with last year's parade of unaccompanied minors to the U.S. border said "You have a law that is designed to protect unaccompanied children and put them in the care of HHS until their situation can be resolved, and you have unscrupulous people who took advantage of it. I think what happened here was they took advantage of a system that was overwhelmed and they did it at the expense of children." The boys, ages 15, 16 and 17 when they arrived from Guatemala, were threatened with violence if they complained or stepped out of line.

The teens were put to work at Trillium Farms, which relied on a contractor, one of the people charged in the case, to recruit and hire the workers. Trillium produces more than 2 billion eggs per years at various farms. They said they were unaware of what was happening with the contractor and the workers and hasn't been charged. The first alleged victims and their families began to talk to authorities in 2013. Then, last Dec. 17, federal agents swarmed the remote trailer park and moved the victims out. Michael Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cleveland said "We view them as victims who are witnesses in our case. So we're making sure they get the services they need."

Photo: US News Snapshot

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