In this eye-opening true story about immigrants in America, a visionary labor leader devises a plan that wins the citizenship of 500 workers from India after being exposed to inhumane conditions.
In late 2006, Saket Soni, a 28-year-old, Indian-born community organizer received an anonymous phone call from an Indian migrant worker inside a Mississippi labor camp. He and 500 other men were living in squalor in Gulf Coast “man camps,” surrounded by barbed wire, watched by armed guards, crammed into cold trailers with putrid portable toilets, forced to eat moldy bread and frozen rice. Worse, lured by the promise of good work and green cards, the men had desperately scraped together up to $20,000 each to apply for this “opportunity” to rebuild oil rigs after Hurricane Katrina, putting their families into impossible debt. During a series of clandestine meetings, Soni and the workers devise a bold plan. In The Great Escape, Soni traces the workers’ extraordinary escape, their march on foot to Washington DC, and their 23-day-hunger strike to bring attention to their cause. Along the way, ICE agents try to deport the men, company officials work to discredit them, and politicians avert their eyes. But none of this shakes the workers’ determination to win their dignity and keep their promises to their families.
Weaving a deeply personal journey with a riveting tale of 21st-century forced labor, Soni takes us into the hidden lives of the foreign workers the US increasingly relies on for cheap skilled labor to rebuild after climate disasters. The Great Escape is the astonishing story of one of the largest human trafficking cases in modern American history—and the workers’ heroic journey for justice.
Saket Soni is the founder and director of Resilience Force, a national nonprofit that advocates for the rising workforce that rebuilds after climate disasters. He was profiled as an “architect of the next labor movement” in USA Today, and his work was the subject of a November 2021 New Yorker feature story (in the magazine and the New Yorker Radio Hour), in which the author called him "truly one of the most interesting people I have ever met in my life." He has testified before Congress on issues of immigration and labor rights. Originally from New Delhi, Soni lives in Washington, DC.