Bill to Thwart ‘Modern-Day Slavery’ Introduced by Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher

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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. File photo by Chris Stone

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher Thursday introduced a bill aimed at cracking down on labor trafficking, which affects an estimated 30,000 in San Diego County.

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Labor trafficking refers to the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel labor. It often affects immigrants in the U.S. legally, whereby an employer seizes a worker’s travel documents to prevent the employee from leaving an undesirable working arrangement. The employer may threaten to have the worker deported if he or she does not comply, according to a 2014 Northeastern University report.

Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, said her bill, AB 2732, would make it a misdemeanor for someone to seize a worker’s immigration documents for the purpose of engaging in human trafficking and would impose a fine of up to $10,000. Workers would be required to sign a “Workers Bill of Rights” to help inform them of the legal protections that cover them, according to the assemblywoman.

“It’s modern-day slavery,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “These are victims who are forced to work in conditions that would seem unimaginable in today’s America. The stories are revolting and heartbreaking. We must keep exposing these outrages and do everything in our power to stop them from happening.”

Nearly all victims of labor trafficking are immigrants, 70 percent of whom enter the country legally, the Northeastern University study found.

The immigrants are often brought into the U.S. by shady “recruiters” to whom they pay an average of $6,150 in fees with the promise of work. The work turns out to be far from what was promised and often includes working in inhumane conditions, according to the report.

Gonzalez Fletcher worked with San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan to draft the bill.

“Traffickers use force, fraud and coercion to exploit labor from their victims, and this bill makes it clear to unscrupulous employers that it’s unlawful to control a person’s work visas, passport and immigration documents,” Stephan said. “These are common-sense protections that will improve dignity and liberty for workers and provide clarity to employers.”

Officials say human trafficking of various sorts is a major problem in the San Diego region.

The FBI lists San Diego as one of the top 13 highest sex trafficking areas in the country. Each year, thousands of people in the region are estimated to be victims of trafficking.

–City News Service

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