Thirty Thai men who were "tricked into a life of forced labor" after being promised lucrative jobs in the United States are just one symptom of the problem of modern-day slavery, CNN reported Monday.

According to the State Department, there are as many as 200,000 forced laborers in the US, with some 17,500 arriving every year.

"This is a hidden crime," Louis C. de Baca, the State Department's ambassador for human trafficking, told CNN. "The very nature of this crime masks it from us."

CNN reported on the case of 30 Thai men, who were promised jobs picking tobacco on North Carolina by a company called Million Express Manpower. The company required the men to pay the equivalent of $11,000 for the necessary visa and transportation.

But when they arrived in the US, they discovered there were no jobs waiting, and their passports were seized. The men "realized they were trapped," reports CNN's Sean Callebs.

The men say they were taken to New Orleans, where they were forced to gut a condemned hotel without pay, while living on the premises. They say they had to cook pigeons for food.

"Some of the men were so stressed out they seemed suicidal," one of the men told CNN.

The men eventually won a lawsuit against the company, which did not respond to the allegations against it.

The case of the 30 Thai men is somewhat unusual, as human trafficking often focuses on women and children. The Guardian recently reported on the problem of women and teenage girls being trafficked to the United States for sex and servitude:

In one recent incident a 16-year-old Mexican girl was found to have been trafficked across the US border. Doctors noticed the heavily pregnant girl showed clear signs of physical abuse when she was brought into a hospital in Dayton to give birth. The police were called but the couple who had brought her had already fled. When the girl's story emerged, it became clear she had been kept against her will in the nearby city of Springfield and used for labour and sex. "I thought slavery ended a few centuries ago. But here it is alive and well," said Springfield's sheriff, Gene Kelly.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently launched a 14-city pilot project, "Hidden in Plain Sight," to combat human trafficking. The project involves setting up billboards across the city with an 800 number that victims of human trafficking can call to get help.

This video is from CNN's American Morning, broadcast Nov. 30, 2009.

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