LA Times Op-Ed

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Subject: LA Times Op-Ed
From: Jenny Stanger (jenny_stanger@hotmail.com)
Date: Mon Feb 14 2000 - 09:21:32 EST


Los Angeles Times, Friday, February 11, 2000
Commentary

Trafficking in Humans Isn't Behind Us Yet
Workers: A proposed bill is the first step in combating the modern-day
version of indentured servitude.

By HAE JUNG CHO, ANGELICA SALAS

The recent coverage of Chinese "smuggling" in cargo containers fails to
address the critical issue of these cases as examples of trafficking in
human beings for slavery and slave-like practices, a growing problem in the
United States. Angelenos may remember the 1995 case of the El Monte "slave
shop," a classic trafficking case, in which 75 Thai garment workers were
held in slavery, sewing clothes for some of the top U.S. manufacturers. The
only difference between the recent Chinese trafficking and El Monte is that
the Chinese workers never made it
to their destination.
                                                              Trafficking in
human beings is not particular to the Chinese community. It is a highly
organized global phenomenon. Reps. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) and Sam
Gejdenson (D-Conn.) have proposed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of
1999 (H.R. 3244), a comprehensive anti-trafficking bill that would provide
protection to trafficked persons, strategies for prevention of trafficking
and more effective prosecution of traffickers.
                                                              Traffickers
actively recruit workers, facilitate their migration and deliver them to a
site where they will be held in bonded servitude for many years working for
little or no pay, seven days a week. Workers often come from underdeveloped
regions experiencing war, economic collapse, environmental degradation or
ethnic conflict. Workers who are smuggled generally know what they're
getting into and the arrangement upon arrival. Workers who are trafficked,
on the other hand, are
easily recruited, based on deceptions about the nature and conditions of the
work situation. Upon arrival in the destination country, their
identification papers are confiscated, and they live and work in subhuman
conditions. Through violence or the threat of violence, employers control
every aspect of the workers' lives.
                                                              Trafficking in
human beings is highly profitable because of the length of time workers can
be held in servitude paying off enormous debts. Trafficked persons work in
garment factories, restaurants, agriculture and other informal labor sectors
where they may be subjected to serious physical and psychological abuse by
their employers. These people are victims of human rights violations.
Trafficking is a crime against the individual. Even though a person may have
initially consented to go
with a trafficker, at some point the purported terms and conditions of the
initial work contract disappear. The workers then are coerced or forced into
slavery orsubjected to slave-like practices. The issue of consent is
irrelevant because no one willingly consents to slavery.

Cracking down on the victims will only drive trafficking further underground
and force traffickers to invent more dangerous and elusive ways of bringing
workers into the United States. As opportunities for legal migration are
shrinking globally, workers will continue to be lured by the false promises
and deceptions of recruiters.
                                                              Oftentimes,
trafficked persons are re-victimized by a justice system that offers few
incentives for their cooperation in going after the perpetrators. Even when
victims act as witnesses against their traffickers, they are held in
Immigration and Naturalization Service detention without legal or social
services throughout the course of the trial process, which could last one to
two years. At the end of the
proceedings, victim-witnesses are deported to their countries of origin,
where they could face serious reprisals from their traffickers. Some
governments, such as Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), have even imprisoned
deportees.

Abuses will continue unless law enforcement recognizes trafficking as a
human rights abuse and an issue of workers' rights. Programs that offer
protections to exploited workers must be provided so they will be able to
come forward and exercise a fundamental human right: freedom from
exploitation. Trafficked persons must be provided with the opportunity to
obtain legal status in the U.S., especially when they provide critical
evidence in the prosecution of their traffickers. The proposed legislation
would be a critical first step in combating this egregious crime against
exploited workers.
                                                                             
             - - -
Hae Jung Cho Is Project Director for CAST, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery
& Trafficking.

Angelica Salas Is Acting Executive Director for CHIRLA, the Coalition for
Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
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