American mythology posits a narrative for our foundation which rests upon an ideology of values and self-evident truths which separate the United States from the rest of the world. When I teach this I try to sell the “all are created equal” as hard as I can. Including “the pursuit of happiness” with life and liberty is actually an important and unique American value, at least in our affirmative expression of it.
I’ll challenge any student or reader to talk with an immigrant about the American Dream before giving up on it. The so-called Caravan of people walking across Mexico to flee violence in search of the opportunity echoed on our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…”
There is an American Dream and I wish we still hoped to share it.
When the American Dream is used as bait and lures victims into slavery — sometimes manual labor, sometimes sex work — that is when the dream becomes a nightmare; as of 2005 the U.S. State Dept. reported between 14,500 and 17,500 human beings trafficked into the U.S. annually and many come willingly, believing the lies of the traffickers. The Global Slavery Index 2018 “estimates that on any given day in 2016 there were 403,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in the United States.” Human trafficking of women and children is the fastest growing crime on the planet, sex trafficking makes $99 billion a year.
What can you do? The State Department offers some advice, including: “If you are in the United States and believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, report your suspicions to law enforcement by calling 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.”
While Trump signed the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act last month — a good thing — he also falsely conflates trafficking with his wall. He says: “This really is an invasion of our country by human traffickers,” but it is just another lie (the Washington Post, as of Jan. 21, 2019, has tracked 8,158 untruths in the first two years of Trump’s Presidency). No amount of expertise on human trafficking will sway him, he will peddle the myths and actually make combatting the problem more difficult.
A more constructive partial solution would be to truly offer the American Dream to victims of trafficking, who are often kept in slavery by their traffickers threats that, if they are caught they will be deported. There is a seldom-used and nearly obscure provision in the Victims Protection Act for a special T-visa that would give such victims four years of residence in the US and on year three they could apply for a green card, but the law doesn’t require prosecutors to help or even notify arrested victims of this hope. That should change.
I almost wish we could prove the American Dream was dead, at least then it wouldn’t be the con used to lure so many into captivity, it ought to be called the American Tragedy instead.
WIM LAVEN syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Kennesaw State University, and on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.