tv After Words Saket Soni The Great Escape CSPAN February 3, 2023 8:02pm-9:00pm EST
governor at sarah huckabee sanders will give the republican response. watch our live coverage of the state of the union beginning tuesday at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span, c-span now our free mobile video app, or online at c-span.org. announcer: next on a book tv's author interview program "after words" author and committee organizer saket soni retells the story of how a group of indian men came to the u.s. as guestworkers and became trapped in forced labor. he is it abused by was aref history -- mauzzaraf chishti. mr. chishti: welcome, everyone. we are here to discuss the book"the greatescape."
by my friend saket soni. saket is a nationally renowned organizer, organizer of labor rights and immigrant workers. he heads an organization called resilient force, where he builds skilled workforce to carry out america's climate change adaptation, but he gained a national reputation for protecting and organizing workers who work in the various projects in the country to rebuild homes and schools and cities after various natural disasters. he is, as i said, a nationally recognized organizer. he has been described as the architect of the next labor movement by usa today, and a company called him one of the
most creative people of 2022, and i am sure he will remain one in 2023 also, that we are here to discuss his book. it ia book that tells the story of a group of indian workers who took debts and all kinds of goodbyes and into get to rebuild american cities, schools, and homes after hurricane katrina. and they were promised all kinds of pieces of the american dream, including a green card, but instead they found themselves in semi-captivity, and this is a story about extremely strategic organizing that got them out of their captivity by communication , legal, and organizing strategy that saket led. in one of the book reviews done
by an opinion writer at the new york times, she said "the great escape" is a must read for anyone organizing unions across racial lines. even leaders who have never thought about labor issues before it find themselves sucked into the drama. saket, this is about the book, which i must tell you sort of reads like a novel from the very first page. it draws you in. it drew me into the stories when i first saw the reluctant, obligatory call that a worker was trying to talk about an arranged marriage. in the middle of the call he found his romantic flame to the story of an astrologer who told a worker that his fortune lay in
a foreign country, so people would not think that you are reading a story about the very important chapter in labor history of our country, because it is so thrilling right from the beginning. it draws you into the nuances of what it takes for people to make the journeys across oceans to find work and hope and dreams in america, and what it takes to fulfill those dreams, and in many cases those dreams do not happen. so we are here talking about the book, and before we talk about the book, i want to talk to you about the writing of the book, because i am sure as many of our viewers have wanted to write a book, we all think and salivate about writing a book, but thinking about writing a book is different than actually writing a book. how does a person like you, who is a very busy, sharp elbowed
microphone in his hand organizer decide to write a book? and what does it take to actually write the book when you have such a difficult, all-consuming job? essentially, when did you first think you had a book in you? and what did it take to get the book out into pages that our viewers are going to read? mr. soni: well, i can tell you it took 16 years to live this story and four years to write it , so it was not a quick book to write. i am thrilled to be talking to you today, because i do not know if you remember this, but right at the beginning of my organizing career when i was a young rabble-rouser, green behind the ears, i came up to visit you in new york to sit at your feet and get advice, and
basically the message i got was to keep organizing and to make something of myself. so i went and wrote a book, and i am so thrilled that you read it and we are not talking about it. one of the things that happens when you are an advocate or organizer, whether you are a lawyer representing clients or working in a social service agency, you know, working at a shelter. whatever it is you do, when you are advocating on behalf of of people, you get to know a little corner of their lives. you do not get too peer to deep -- to peer too deep in their. you do not have that luxury. you wish you got to know people better. with this group of people i was in a foxhole with them for three
years. i got to know them better than most advocates are lucky to get to know their clients, the people they are representing, their members. and the stories always stayed with me. and i just always thought if i could to know these men the way that i know them, if i could to get readers to profoundly recognize them, people would be enriched. it so that is what i set out to do. i had to change my habits quite a lot to write the book. i have never been a morning person, and to write this book i would get up every day at 4:00 and right from 4:30 until 8:30 four hours a day for four years. the book is based on an enormous number of interviews, the kinds
of details, rigid details that the men, their families, and even my adversaries that are in the book shared with me. all of these deep interviews, i would fly out to places, and over dozens of interviews collect really rigid details, and then the book is based on a sprawling piece of litigation. so it took going over documents and backing up every fact through something that was connected to a court document, so it was a really sprawling endeavor to write this book. it is not for everyone, but in retrospect i am really glad i did it. mr. chishti: yeah, it is not for everyone, but for a lot of people. a lot of people who like stories , this would have people who like human stories, and there are a lot of people who want to understand people whose work we
depend on our daily lives, people who harvest our crops, process our food, to make our food, produce it and deliver it to homes. it is a story about workers that we take for granted and the travails that they face and what it takes to champion their cause is, so it covers a lot of ground. was there a particular moment while you were working as an organizer especially in this campaign that you thought that this book must be written? mr. soni: yes, it was when i started getting to know the workers very, very deeply. we were, you know -- i was meeting workers through a series of clandestine meetings when they were trapped in a labor camp in mississippi, and i was trying to convince them to meet with me and tell me how they
landed up there. the book really starts with my connection to these workers started with eight mysterious midnight phone call when i was in post-katrina gulf coast, and i was running a small nonprofit, a small labor rights nonprofit, and in the middle of the night i got a phone call from a man who insisted on remaining anonymous. but i could tell from the way that he said my name that he was from india. that man told me a little bit of what he was experiencing. he said he was prepped and being held captive by a company. he needed help. that set me on the trails of what ended up becoming the largest -- one of the largest cases of human trafficking in a modern human history, and i was so busy with the workers that there was no book inside -- in sight, but the first time i
realized it was a much deeper story was as i was getting to know the workers really deeply, i started to realize that the true indignities that they faced at the hands of the company were things that no one could ever see. you had to really get to know them deeply to understand. there was one worker named eddie raju, and he told me the story of his worst day working for this company and something close to captivity. he described how one day he was on a platform 20 feet high, and he was doing a very dangerous welding job. he was getting -- he was under a lot of pressure building this oil rig and he got a phone call, and he picked up, and it was his wife 10,000 miles away in india.
he left his wife for this green card opportunity and was told by the company that he would get a green card in nine months. that never came. his wife had been pregnant when he left, and now his wife was calling saying she was going into surgery. she was just about to be operated on, and then the phone clicked off it. eddie, this worker, did not see his wife again and did not meet the sun that was born that day for another three years, and when eddie described that to me in the middle of this campaign, i realize that he and so many other workers had these profound love stories, these profound stories of the journey that they went on to america, i had profound motivations were those stories. and none of it was going to be talked about in the day to day of the campaign, but i stored them in my head and went to the return to them after the workers
finally won their campaign. mr. chishti: great, and you store them in your head, but they are very vivid on the pages and a very nuanced and the kind of sacrifice people went through and the decision making people made for leaving their loved ones behind for pursuing this dream, how do you get them right and so nuanced? did you take notes of you doing each of these interviews? mr. soni: yes, i took a very detailed notes. i knew the basic story from living to the campaign. there was a lot of the events of the book were events that i was therefore either as a participant or a witness, so the first worker who called me anonymously who led me to the labor camp, you know, he then
wound up connecting me to hundreds of other workers. those hundreds of workers told me their story in clear terms. they were living in india, they were career migrant workers who go from india to the gulf coast when one day recruiters arrived in india and promise them green cards and good jobs and told them that it would cost $20,000 apiece. this is a lifetime, multiple generations of wealth in india. they borrowed money from users and lenders and loan sharks, but when they arrived into the united states, they found themselves not on green cards but temporary visas. there were no green cards in sight, and it told the workers who resulting american dream
were dropped into an american nightmare. i saw pieces of the nightmare. in the labor camps they were working round-the-clock ships. they were living in a trailer 24 to a trailer in a facility the company themselves called a man camp facility constructed on a toxic dump. i heard all of that at the time, i took a deep notes. that was all very corroborated, but what took on much deeper dive during the book writing process was the internal lives of the workers. you know, their family histories, their love stories the stories of what kept them going and what broke them down during their american journey, and that absolutely took hours and hours of interviews, detailed notes, and actually, one of the interesting things about it was i was doing not
just interviews with the principal people but their relatives to incorporate the fact. one worker in the book told me the story that you alluded to, which is that an astrologer told him he would find his future wife in a north facing home at a certain radius from his own house. he went on a summerlong hunt for this bride to be. he found her, and when he found her and therefore add faith in -- the astologer's prediction remember that the other half of what the astrologer prophecy was that he would soon leave for another country and that is where he would find his future. i corroborated this from his life. it was a very deep interview process. mr. chishti: that is right.
i have to tell you the description of the phone call with potential arranged marriage brides, which was done so reluctantly like a chore that his mother forced him and suddenly the call turning into a romantic flame. that kind of memory and the story of the astrologer that you will find a fortune in a foreign land, those of hopes that keep people alive in the man camp, that you had to think things -- you had to clean two things -- c ling to things like that. wire love stories important when a narrative like this? mr. soni: every immigrant story is a love story, because every immigrant's story is a story of leaving and separation and arriving and missing loved ones
and yearning for those you left behind, and in this particular instance, though not in all instances tragically, but in this one, this immigrant love story is a story that ends with reunions. i was just really struck by when i started interviewing the men who i had known for years and who i represented for years, when they started talking about their lives in india and what they left behind during these interviews, talked about their loved ones, talked about their wives, they talked about their girlfriends. working -- the worker i talked about, he was resisting his mother's efforts to put him in an arranged marriage. he did not want to be married. he did not think it was his time , and he accidentally talked to his mother's candidate as his
bride to be on the phone, and in a few seconds over the phone he fell in love. that is an extraordinary story, and you are right. deep in the darkness of the man camp that is the burning light that eddie clung to come at the memory of that phone call and many others. he was forbidden to meet his bride to be accepted in a heavily chaperoned family situation. he could not meet with her one-on-one before the wedding night, but he remembered those phone calls where they told jokes and sayi to each other. there was another character in the book who falls inove with a high school sweetheart, and they carry on a clandestine romance for years, and when the time comes he asks for his high school sweetheart's hand in marriage. well, her father, who is from a
higher station than him socially, says look, if you want to marry my daughter, go make something of yourself. and he decides that he is. he will become not a doctor, not a lawyer, not an engineer, something even better, something the girl's father will never say no to and that is an american. i think these kinds of stories, the reason they are universal is we all understand that we will do anything when we fall in love and we want to go get that person's hand when we fall in love. we will go anywhere and do anything and that is what these men do. they do it for love of family, love for not just the women of their lives but their unborn future children. they do it for love out of that, and that is what makes them resilient deepening man camp
working round-the-clock shifts surrounded by barbed wire fences. mr. chishti: i am very pleased that you made an important theme of the book, but one of the stories you weave into this book is her own story. it is a -- your own story. it is a personal story and also an immigration story. why was it important for you to weave your own story into the narrative of the book? mr. soni: i was really surprised that i stumbled into writing my own story. i initially thought this book was going to read it more like a journalistic account. certainly i was there, i would be around in the narrative a little bit, but i did not expect what i want to putting into the book now, which is the way that my own personal immigration crisis paralleled the crisis of the men and the way that my own complicated love story was connected to my immigration
crisis leading me to have my own incredible vulnerabilities during the course of the campaign and the events that unfolded in the book. so i started off thinking i would not be in it, but the night soon realize two things. i realized in nonfiction, the reader actually needs a reliable narrator, a tour guide. a virgil if you will. you need someone to take you into the lives of men and explain the indian customs and the reasons why the mothers order to have an arrangement -- arranged marriage hold so much power over the sun's head -- son's head and why the sun may want to go to america as a result of those orders to make
money and raise a family. the world of india, world of a lubricant in the gulf coast of mississippi after hurricane katrina, the world of a shipyard where an oil rig is being built, these are worlds i know very deeply, and i can be your tour guide and lead you in, to your interpreter as it were. that is one of the reasons i wound up in the book, but a soon as i went up in the book for that reason i realized i had to be an interesting character. interesting books and characters are never perfect people. interesting characters are people who are flawed, evolving, growing, changing, people who have problems and not small problems, but high-stakes problems. and i actually had all that and was all of that during the book, and i needed to put that in the book in order to sustain the reader's interest. there was also a deeper reason. if i was going to ask -- and i
did, for this book i asked my subjects, these indian workers, to reveal so much so deeply of their lives, to reveal their herds, losses, loves, deprivations, and if i was going to do that, ask them for that and they would reveal that to me, how could i not reveal all of that about myself? so i decided to do that. mr. chishti: it does lend authenticity to the book and also kept your interest in writing it because it had residents in yourself. that brings attention to the author, and i am glad you did that. shifting now to -- and i am sure a lot of people first thing they will read about your book is the title, "the greate esca[e." -- escape." how did you come to the title of the book? mr. soni: in many ways is the
central part of the book. when i got that phone call from an anonymous source that led me to a labor camp in mississippi, i started to meet clandestinely with the 500 workers in the camps. these were two labor camps, the main one in mississippi, another one in texas, and did both a large mississippi oil rig builder was holding workers in what a federal court would come to recognize later as forced labor. the men were recruited on false promises of green cards and good jobs but were toiling away on temporary visas living in trailers on company property. and when i -- you know, when i started partnering with the men, the big question they asked me was what can you do for us?
what can we do? one of the men i meant -- met was a worker and also the kind of partner and labor worker organizer dreams of. he had lent strikes, he had been part of actions to improve labor conditions and other places around the world, and the middle east, azerbaijan, and he came to me and said in a secret meeting what do we need to do? do we need to strike? i explained in this case a strike will not be helpful. you striper things that a workplace can give you. you striper things that a company has the power to produce for you. in this case, the workers needed to stay in the united states, but the company was not in any position to give them green cards, to give them the pathway to stay, so i describe the real
path, which would be to come forward and to report the company to the department of justice on charges of human trafficking, for the crime of human trafficking. in order to do that though the men would have to get out of the labor camp. that is what made it necessary to escape. so over the course of several months rajan and i engineered the great escape that is the title of the book. we engineered an escape that could easily be in a heist movie. without giving too much away, it involved a lot of minibar bottles of wild turkey whiskey, dozens and dozens of boxes of flavored cigars for mississippi gas stations, or bribes -- more
bribes, and we created a pretax, and elaborate fictitious wedding to mary 500 men -- marry 500 men out of the labor camps under the noses of the guards. then we were faced with the problem, which was where to hide the men. we filed the doj complaint, hid the men and started on a long march to washington. mr. chishti: you notice on page 44 if you look, it is the great escape from the stations, it is a very interesting connection between the great escape that you are talking about that led to the title and the great escape that the workers were thinking about in their minds when they left india. did you think about that when you were drunk connection? mr. soni: very much so. the great escape that leaves from the page is of course the
central, big oceans 11 level heist where workers were basically under the cover of darkness stealing away from the labor camps. that was one way of escape, but the deeper great escape was actually the line you read. it was this idea that this recruiter, who arrived in the united states with eight labor broker and an indian labor recruiter, when they offered the workers a green card and good jobs, a chance to settle in america, the reason that was worth $20,000, the recent workers sold ancestral land, the reason that they borrowed from violent loan sharks was because they thought it might be their one chance, in fact, the one chance in a generation from the
family to escape from the stations of their birth. eddie raju graduated eighth or ninth grade. his first job was fixing roofs for one dollar a day. he worked for five years in mumbai. he then went to the middle east. his years of migrant labor could not pay for his father's retirement and could not pay for all of the expenses that his family was experiencing in india. he needed a great escape from the station of his birth, and that is what he and other people thought this was. not just a green card to come to america, but a way out of the very cemented position in indian society that they could never get out of without the chance to come to the united states. mr. chishti: so the freedom
journey which is sort of at the heart of this book does not get into detail until the middle of the book and you describe is setting up your first clandestine meeting with a bunch of workers in a church, and you were surprised what you saw there. just tell us what that meeting was like and what it led to. mr. soni: well, the man who called me and is very particular -- in his very particular english said he was willing to meet me but it would have to be a secret meeting, no one could know about it, and he would not tell me his name but he would be willing to tell me the name of the church that i could find. it was a church that the company allowed him to go to every sunday. that was his one narrow a few hours of freedom was the ability to go to that church. she said the name of the church was the secret catholic church.
so i went on a hunt and look for a secret catholic church in the gulf coast of mississippi. i found it, it was actually called sacred heart catholic church. it was in a shipyard town, and walking up to the door of that church i thought i was going to meet with one, may be three workers. i had really prepared for this meeting even if it was going to be three workers. i decided i was going to recruit them, i was going to do really well, so i called my mother. i broke down. i had been pretty could offer my family in india at a personal level, but i broke down that morning and called my mother and asked her to walk me through a handy -- hindi speech i could give them and went over their confidence. my hindi was rescued from misuse
like a broken down car that had not been driven in eight years. i considered myself an american in all but passport and had not used my other tongues, but here i was with a really practiced hindi speech opening the door expecting to find three workers and their waiting for me were 100 workers. i was shocked. i went up there, i recited might very rehearse speech. i did it beautifully. it sounded -- reaching back to my acting days, it sounded like it was off book and left off the pages as if i was coming up extraneous the but it failed miserably. the workers did not understand a word that i said because they were from south india. someone raised his hand and asked me to do it all over again in english. i did, and that meeting was a
disaster. workers streamed out, i could not answer any of their questions. i had no plan for them to get them out of activity, one workers sitting deep in the room which talk to me a few weeks later, that was rajan. he taught me the various aspects of this scheme, and he also taught me how to cook, and over a series of extraordinarily secret meals we engineer the great escape at the center of the book. mr. chishti: in the opposite of the clandestine meeting was a very public event that happened after the great escape, when workers marched to the company gates with tv cameras and all of that after they have been vindicated. what did that moment feel like? mr. soni: that was extraordinary. the night after the workers escaped, they were hiding out in a hotel room. the next morning we did a very
unexpected thing. we marched right back to the company gates, this time gloriously lit by mississippi sun. it was a clear day, the men were wearing their hardhats, blue sky and clouds were reflecting on the surface of these red and blue hardhats, and the men marched back to the company gates and took their hardhats off, and in a symbolic show of leaving the company, proudly leaving the company, through their hardhats in the air at the company gates. i then we learned the police were on their way so we clambered onto buses and spat out to new orleans where we hid and waited for the department of justice to answer our criminal complaint. mr. chishti: yeah, so in the people who have tried to organize and protect workers in
various sectors of our economy and found it very difficult to find success, what do you think made your campaign for the indian workers a success? it was obviously very good intelligence. it was using communication skills. it was using marching to washington as a tool, but just describe the multifaceted campaign that you lead which led to the success of. mr. soni: i think it was a series of choices, some that we made with the sense of strategy and calculation, some that we were pushed into because of circumstances, and some choices we would never have dreamed of making, but when push came to
shove, you know, on the basis of pure instinct we made certain choices. right at the beginning, it was really clear that the workers were undocumented. the company that had promised them green cards was never going to give them green cards, and the choice to escape from the labor camp was the first really important choice. there was a deep debate among the workers. many of them want to do state for the company but quietly file a department of justice complaint, and somehow speak to government inspectors or law enforcement when they came knocking. that was not going to work and rajan and other workers help me convince the workforce that we really needed to escape from the
labor camps altogether so that the department of justice was really clear that these workers did not want to have it both ways. they were willing to leave the company. later down the line, the choice to march. we were in a hotel in new orleans. once we escaped, once the workers escaped from the liver cap the question was where do you put 500 brown men in mississippi or louisiana while we wait for the department of justice to send an investigator? the only place we could do that was in a hotel in new orleans that was in disrepair, and we had to really hide because police were circling, police who moonlighted as security guards or the company -- fro the company. one of the principal labor recruiters was actually a
mississippi cop who turned labor broker who had deep connections into police departments and that part of the country, and other contractors were circling so we had to hide the men. at some point eight days later there was radio silence from the department of justice. the fbi had called once, but they had vanished and we decided it was time to come out of hiding. it was time to come out not as just undocumented but as deserving of status to the u.s. government, so we came out and we decided to march like a mini fighters before them. these workers marched from new orleans to washington. that was a tough journey but a necessary one, and that increased the visibility and focus of the press on these workers. it was also really important to really build deep ties with the
civil rights movement, with civil rights leaders as we marched through the south. many of my mentors who are civil rights leaders became the mentors of these men and connecting their struggle as immigrants to a much longer, deeper struggle for racial justice for civil rights that continues to happen in america, continues to move forward in america. that was really an element of the men is to success. mr. chishti: the campaign is very important for people to understand. i tell all young lawyers you can prepare the best brief, the best witnesses but to make sure you have a good reporter covering the story. there was a very important new york times story in a case that galvanized public attention. would you like to talk about that? mr. soni: that was absolutely critical. at the heart of the campaign was
the story the men were telling, which is the weight recruiters on behalf of the company brought them to the united states promising green cards but delivering temporary work visas and labor camps. the men had paid $20,000 for them. those were the men's facts. the company was telling a different story. the company was saying the men always knew what the deal was rated the company had no idea that the men had to been charged, that it was the recruiters to blame, not the mississippi oil rig builder, and that a very pivotal moment while the men were on a 23 day a hunger strike, the new york times reported on the men. a reporter named julia preston, who had previously been a war reporter, the balkans and other places, it was now the reporter, and she covered the story, and
that really caught the attention of democrats in congress. it caught the attention of key committees that had jurisdiction over the homeland security, the department of homeland security and the justice department. that story really took what was a mississippi event and turned it into a national question of how it was at the guest worker program being used? and it gave us a kind of -- it was reporting, and it gave a kind of legitimacy to the menopause of his allegations. mr. chishti: from the backwaters of mississippi to the front page of the new york times and that changes the profile. talk about the department of justice, which is at the center of this campaign. you mentioned it went radio silent for a while, and suddenly -- not revealing everything
about the book, but there was a smoking gun event in the investigation. tell us is much as you can. mr. soni: yes, you know, the expectation we had was that the department of justice would investigate the men, it would investigate the men's claims that they were trafficking victims. that, you know, there is legislation called the trafficking victims protection act gives the department jurisdiction to respond to complaints into allegations of trafficking. when the victim witnesses are undocumented, the department of justice has the power to ask homeland security to grant temporary status so that the victims and witnesses can stay in the country despite being
undocumented, so that they can state in the country to participate in an investigation. we expected the men overnight to get that status, and then, as the investigation was underway, we expected to file applications for special humanitarian visas designated for trafficking victims. all we were saying is we were bringing the complaints. at the doj would investigate, other agencies of the u.s. government, homeland security and others would help. but if the veracity of the menopause because claims was proven, then they would get these protections. for some reason the department of justice never switched on the base of protections, and instead of weeks the investigation took months to get started. once it was started, it took years to conclude, and we did
not know why. and that we found out that we were actually up against an agent in the federal government, and adversary, and opponent of the workers with deep ties to the company. a person with deep motivations to jail the workers, someone who even as we are marching a -- in dc, someone through machinations reveling our plans. we found ourselves surveilled, up against a dragnet of agents led by a man who is trying to make criminals of the men rather than looking at the men of victims of a crime. he was trying to cap them as the criminals and we did not know at the time that is what we were up against, but at some point in the book there is a smoking gun
that i do not want to give away that changes everything and winds up becoming a life changing, game changing event in the lives of these men. mr. chishti: exactly, everyone has to read the book to know how the smoking gun comes alive but it involves an agent. there are three very interesting characters in the book who are obviously not very good people, who are part of the perpetrators of this. and you somehow managed to humanize even these three people. tell me why that was important for you to do? mr. soni: i am a deep believer in seeing all the points of view of the situation. in telling these stories, i wanted to make the workers complicated. they are not saints. they is something better, or
interesting. they are full human beings. and then the people who created this game, the people who benefited from it, the people who colluded with the company, the ice agents, i wanted to see them as full human beings and understand their motivations, so the key recruiter is a fascinating person. the present right at the center of the scheme was a liberal new orleans attorney. he was an idealist. he thought of himself as the immigrant's best friend, and in fact, he tells the story himself of being a young boy in the growing up on a horse farm when his parents, the good catholics they are, taken a pair of cuban teenage refugees enter dinner conversations stay with him even after the refugees leave. he carries them with him all the
way to the part where he starts his own immigration law practice, but then hurricane katrina hits and it runs him financially and personally, and so out of a sense of self-preservation key partners with two others, a mississippi cop turned labor broker and an indian labor recruiter, and they come up with this scheme to supply these workers at low cost to this mississippi oil rig builder. the ice agent is another fascinating character. i wound up learning a lot about him. and surprisingly, all of the things in the book that i know about him, the intimate portraits that i write come from him. i reached out to him and he met with me and we sat down and felt the kind of friendship, which continues to this day. i am just a huge believer in
stepping into the shoes of people even who are opponents and trying to really understand and write from their point of view, because that makes were not just a more interesting book but a more interesting world. we should not ever lose the art of understanding the world from someone else's point of view, even from the point of view of a person whose actions might be anathema to us, whose actions we might deride. we as human beings after understand what got people to the point where they did things that we might think of as inhuman. mr. chishti: yeah. so a lot of people think of you as a very important success story, but tell me how much of an outlier is this?
that we hear about very unfortunate conditions in which workers, especially temporary workers not only in post climate disasters but in the farms of our country and the shipyards of our country. how much of an outlier is your success story, and what is the state of workers in these occupations today? mr. soni: well, you are right. the workers at the center of this book had extraordinary successes. you know, these are people who started in a labor camp and wound up free and whose children are now thriving. that to some extent is such a deeply american story. like many immigrants around this world, the indian workers at the beginning of this book decide to
go to america because of a dream. not just a dream for themselves what a dream for the parents, their children. they arrived in a nightmare. they were in a labor camp. they struggled for years, and the reason that is all worth it is not just because of them but because of what their children can then inherit. eddie rajan, his american journey started in a labor camp, and at the end of the book he is reunited with his wife and his son, a son he has not seen for three years. and a few months ago eddie and his wife sent me pictures of themselves as first-time voters. any country in their lives they voted for the first time in this fast midterm election in houston , a state that matters, where there view matters. just two nights ago i got a beautiful picture from that son
of eddie's who is many years older not voraciously reading, proudly reading his father's story in a book that arrived at his doorstep. the book that he will take to school and share with his teachers, and that is a story that can happen only in america because of the american promise, american institutions. as imperfect as they are, there is a sight to be had, and a story like this, a book like this is about the best in the worst in america. while that is true in america, it is also true the dream becomes real for far too many. these workers found me, these workers then were connected to
attorneys, the new york times. there was a three-year campaign around them. they push and reached out for all of the levers of democracy, protests and marches on washington, many workers cannot do that. there are workers who are toiling away in farms or in poultry factories. workers who are working in the health care system or into restaurants. people who feed us and transport our goods, could take care of us who do not have labor protections, who do not have full status, and most importantly who are unrecognized americans. they are americans in all the passport they are americans in their labor. that is the greatest passport of all. they are feeding and taking care of america, but they are unrecognized as americans.
that is the unfulfilled promise of our country and that is what we have to work toward. in that sense this story is an outlier, it is the exception rather than the rule, but what these workers got at the end of this book should be available. that type of recognition should be available to all immigrant workers in america. mr. chishti: >> in 1960 there was a very prominent movie made, a documentary called "horrors of shane. " a lot of people would ask today, aren't these programs inherently wrong, and shouldn't we end them? what is your response to that?
>> harve of shame is a wonderful model. it is in essence, -- it is a forgetting of theme -- of the brosero program. we need a workers training program. and we need workers to arrive, but they need to arrive with good labor positions with the same wages as u.s. workers or they will undercut u.s. workers and they have to arrive with choices and full freedom. they have to arrive into an american workplace that is free and fair. otherwise, we are just building
the next generation of american wealth on a captive or near captain -- or near captive country. and that's not who we are. we should not one to benefit from captive labor. that's what i hope this book -- that's the kind of policy change that i hope this book will spark. host: thanks so much saket. it's a thrilling book. it gets in touch with the stories of this -- of these workers, and as americans what challenges we face getting in contact with these workers. >> thank you for being here. >> after working 1 -- after watching one of our signature tv
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