Activists say pedicab drivers being treated as indentured servants
Critics: ICE crackdown on illegal ring not enough
Last Updated: 260 days ago
SAN DIEGO - Along the bright harbor rides a dark secret: foreign students lured to San Diego with promises of big money, only to fall into debt to their employers. Activists say it is equivalent to indentured servitude.
That certainly seemed to be true in Ahmet's case. 10News spoke to the Turkish student in 2006. He told 10News that he came to San Diego after seeing an ad that promised a better life.
"You could make good money, like $200, $300 a day," Ahmet said.
However, the reality was far from that. On bad days, he would make nothing. His $1,000 deposit was never returned. He told 10News he was trapped and feared that if he complained, his employer would report him to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
"There is a tragedy going on," said Alor Calderon, who is with the Employee Rights Center.
Activists such as Calderon say while officials looked the other way, Ahmet's story has only become more common. Ads like the one he responded to still litter the Internet, broadcasting exaggerated salaries.
"These ads say all about the good and nothing about the bad," said Calderon. "They target those who are trying to survive [and] trying to make a living."
What the ads do not mention is that pedicabs can cost $250 to $300 a week to rent. Activists say that is why many foreign pedicab drivers become indebted to their employers.
"They end up being just servants," said Calderon.
Weeks ago, ICE began deporting dozens of illegal pedicab drivers. Witnesses told 10News 40 were arrested at an apartment complex rented to illegal drivers by local employers.
ICE officials told 10News the living conditions were substandard.
10News reporter Natasha Zouves met with ICE official Michael Carney and asked, "Why now?"
Carney responded, "Two months ago, we became aware that we had a problem."
10News told ICE about the problem six years ago after the initial investigation.
"The bottom line with that is they shouldn't be working in that industry to begin with," said Carney. "We definitely see it as a success."
Calderon could not disagree more.
"We cannot call that a success," he said. "You cannot get to a solution by deporting one person here or one person there."
He questioned why ICE is not going after local employers who knowingly hire these drivers illegally.
"They get what some would call 'cheap labor' and they don't have to deal with the consequences," said Calderon.
Those were consequences that Ahmet quickly discovered.
"You really have to work 15, 16 hours a day," he said. "And sometimes you don't even make that much money."
There is no record of Ahmet being deported. It is almost impossible to tell if he is still here, pedaling every day on the boardwalk.
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