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In “My Family’s Slave,” the devastating cover story in The Atlantic’s June issue, the late, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex Tizon recounts the life of Eudocia “Lola” Pulido, a Filipino immigrant who worked for 56 years without pay for Tizon’s family. Responses to the essay have rightly pointed out that stories like Pulido’s remain all too common in the United States. And one detail in Tizon’s piece helps explain why: By tying immigrant workers to a particular employer, the U.S.’s immigration system enables modern slavery.
“Gifted” to Tizon’s mother by his grandfather, Pulido began working for the Tizons in the Philippines. In 1964, the family moved to the United States, where Tizon’s father had obtained a job at a Philippine consulate. Pulido came with them, through a visa tied to the older Tizon’s employment. Ultimately, Tizon’s father left his consular job and obtained green cards for his family to remain in America. Pulido, on the other hand, was ineligible to become a permanent resident, and her visa expired in 1969. She had become undocumented. Tizon’s parents refused to let her return to the Philippines, and without a valid visa, she likely would have had difficulty obtaining legal employment elsewhere in the United States.
This power imbalance between immigrant workers and their employers figures prominently in the U.S. immigration system. The State Department has estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year.