California Has An Opportunity to Address its Human Trafficking Issue
Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez’s bill, AB 364, will be voted on soon in the California Senate. The bill to register foreign labor contractors is a quiet piece of legislation with the potential to say volumes about our values and commitment to human rights.
If passed, Assembly Bill 364 will extend anti-trafficking safeguards to all California temporary employees, with a focus on unethical and frequently illegal foreign labor contractors (FLCs).
Labor trafficking is currently protected by state and federal law, which imposes criminal and civil penalties on employers who engage in the practice. However, existing legislation creates significant regulatory breaches at the time of recruitment, exploiting thousands of migrant victims.
With unscrupulous FLCs recruiting migrant workers into the US with the promise of decent jobs only to be labor and/or sex-trafficked, this lack of protection can have disastrous results.
Take the story of Raymundo, a Mexican immigrant who was hired to labor in avocado plantations in California. He was offered a good salary as well as housing and board. He was forced to work long hours with no breaks, was never paid what he was promised, and had to dwell in a huge room with over 30 other men after he arrived. They were imprisoned at the farm camp, with no access to guests or the ability to leave.
If he did not obey the traffickers, he was continually monitored, verbally tormented, and threatened with deportation. Raymundo was able to flee and seek help because of his bravery and tenacity. He now works on a farm where he is appreciated and welcomed, and where he can live with his family once more.
Economically disadvantaged persons from other countries who feel they are legally gaining decent jobs in the United States are targeted by traffickers like the ones who controlled Raymundo. Once here, traffickers employ deception, force, and pressure to keep their victims under their control. While the type of abuse victims face varies, it commonly includes physical and sexual violence, as well as threats of deportation or violence against the victim or their family.
People of color, particularly Latino and API people, are disproportionately affected by FLC trafficking. People of color make up 87 percent of the trafficking survivors served by Freedom Network, a national collaboration of anti-trafficking organizations.
Given the employment history of California firms, it is evident that the state’s employers require migrant employees and rely on FLCs to find them, handle their immigration, and arrange to the house.