Mark Massey: Sand Springs, OK

Pentecostal lay minister who has helped more than 500 Indian guest workers escape virtual servitude

Mark Massey was not an immigration advocate, or even a follower of major immigration issues. He was however, a man of conscience who could not turn away when confronted with the injustice of an American corporation holding vulnerable foreign workers without their passports in dire conditions. He took bold action and stayed strong even when threatened by corporate authorities.

In 2002, Massey was the person in charge of community outreach at the Pentecostal church across the street from the Pickle Steel Company in Tulsa. One day, two Indian men who worked at the steel company showed up at the church seeking solace. They were nervous and had limited English. But they told of extremely harsh conditions at the factory and at the motel where they were housed. They disclosed the paltry amount of money they were being paid, which amounted to $2 per hour. And perhaps most troubling, they were being held without access to their passports and were essentially being held captive by the company. The workers who had tried to advocate for better conditions were threatened by the employer and told their families back home in India would suffer, too. Massey could scarcely believe what he was hearing. He knew he couldn’t ignore the plight of these men.

In a dramatic series of events, Massey found himself trying to get workers access to a lawyer, then scrambling as the Tulsa police assisted the company in trying to deport seven workers who were considered “trouble-makers,” and finally staging an actual rescue from the plant in which the workers had to escape under a fence to get to Massey’s waiting van.

When Massey came to the aid of the Indian workers, he was warned by an intermediary that the company would harm him if he continued to help the workers. Nevertheless in the middle of

the night Mark drove his van to the steel company site and helped the workers escape, even though he was filled with fear and had no idea if what he was doing was legal or not.

In the lead up to the escape at the Tulsa factory, Massey traveled to another location in south Louisiana where Indian workers were being held. There, he rescued two workers from a decrepit motel where the company was housing them. Company employees chased his car for some distance before he made his way to the police. He drove to a Baton Rouge police station for help but instead he was arrested, accused of assaulting the traffickers. After several days in jail, the Indian workers he had helped in Tulsa raised the bail for Massey and he was released. Several thousand dollars in attorney fees later, the district attorney in Baton Rouge dismissed the case against Massey. His feerlessness led to more than 200 Indian workers gathering their own courage and filing suit against the employer. Their case eventually led the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to apply civil RICO claims to human trafficking situations.

His physical safety has been threatened by human traffickers in Tulsa and Baton Rouge. When the released Tulsa workers had no place to live after escaping, Mark transferred his family to a small rental property so 52 workers could live in his home. For a time, he gave up his job to volunteer and advocate on behalf of the Indian workers in south Louisiana, putting great financial hardship on his family.

Massey’s courage led to more than 52 workers escaping their traffickers in Tulsa and 200 Indian workers gathering their own courage and filing suit against the men who were exploiting them in Louisiana. Massey has inspired experienced immigration professionals to go the extra mile on behalf of the workers for whom he has advocated. As a result of his efforts, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans took a strong public stand in support of the workers and their plight and organized support for the workers from the New Orleans immigrant advocacy community.

Massey, who started this story simply as his church’s community outreach coordinator, is an ordinary man who showed extraordinary courage when he discovered a great injustice.


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The Freedom From Fear Awards are produced by Public Interest Projects, (PIP).  PIP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that brings together and strengthens the work of philanthropic institutions, donors, nonprofit groups and other public interest organizations sharing a vision of a society that ensures justice, dignity and opportunity for all people.   Statements and activities of Freedom from Fear Award winners do not necessarily reflect the views of PIP.

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