A Tale of Two Migrants:

Farmworker and Sex Worker | Seven Days

Because he is a man, Danilo Lopez is generally believed to have come to the U.S. of his own volition. To some, that makes him courageous and self-sacrificing, one of those hardworking, churchgoing, family-loving immigrants President Obama talks about. To others, he is a “wetback” who’s come to steal our jobs and mooch off our welfare system.

Because she is an Asian woman, Rose is assumed to be docile and guileless (the performance of these traits is her appeal as a prostitute, too). She must have been tricked or kidnapped by some other sinister Asian — echoes of the 19th-century “white slaver” — because surely no one would choose to come to the Land of Opportunity to give hand jobs.

Migrant Justice calls Lopez the subject of “human rights and workers’ rights abuses.” Law enforcement and prostitution abolitionists call Rose a victim of sex trafficking — a slave. In fact, simply doing sex work — even if not by “force, fraud or coercion” — defines Rose as a victim under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

His exploitation is viewed as economic, hers as moral. To supporters, Lopez needs organizing. And Rose needs rescue.

Under U.S. law, work is work and sex is sex. Sex work is not work: It is a crime, either by or against the person doing it. If the sex worker is a foreigner who can prove she is a victim of “severe forms of trafficking,” she is exempt from punitive immigration law. But sorting the “guilty” from the “innocent” migrant sex workers isn’t easy. Cops frequently “mistake” trafficking victims for ordinary prostitutes and arrest, release or order them to immigration court. The alleged victims themselves are no help.

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