Lorena Gonzalez Introduces Bill to Crackdown on Labor Traffickers

Thursday, February 14, 2019

AB 589 Would Increase Penalties for Document Servitude, a Brutal Form of Modern-Day Slavery

SACRAMENTO -- (Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019) -- California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D - San Diego) introduced legislation Thursday to stop document servitude, a brutal form of modern-day slavery that has become prevalent in a number of industries including farming and domestic work.

Labor traffickers frequently target legal U.S. immigrants by seizing their travel documents and forcing them into subhuman working conditions under the threat of deportation. Assemblywoman Gonzalez, who also serves as Chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, worked closely with the office of San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan in drafting Assembly Bill 589 to crack down on labor trafficking, which affects an estimated 30,000 in San Diego County.

“If an employer holds onto a worker’s documents or visa as a way to force them to work, that’s a form of modern day enslavement,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “The conditions these workers are forced into are unimaginable in today’s America. It’s time the State law treated this like the crime that it is.”

This legislation takes aim at ruthless labor traffickers who exploit thousands of people in San Diego County for profit,” said DA Stephan. “A ‘Workers Bill of Rights’ is an important step toward protecting and educating individuals about their rights— including the right to control their own work and identification documents— and I’m proud to partner with Assemblywoman Gonzalez on this important human rights legislation.”  

AB 589 would make it a misdemeanor for someone to seize a worker’s immigration documents for the purpose of engaging in human trafficking. The bill would also impose fines of up to $10,000 for this conduct. Workers would be required to sign a “Workers Bill of Rights,” in which they’re made aware of all their rights under labor law, such as the right to a minimum wage and the right to keep possession of their own immigration documents.

Labor trafficking “involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel labor,” the Urban Institute-Northeastern University noted in a 2014 report, adding that such trafficking often includes “seizing travel documents to prevent laborers from leaving an undesirable working arrangement, threatening deportation if they complain, isolating them and restricting their communications.”

Virtually all victims of labor trafficking are immigrants. Roughly 70% come into the country legally, usually through temporary visas, the Urban Institute found. These immigrants are often brought to the U.S. through shady groups making false promises about the type of work that awaits them. Immigrants paid an average of $6,150 in fees to these “recruiters,” according to the study.

Once these immigrants arrive in the U.S., they find themselves forced into horrific working conditions with little or no recourse. Nearly 70% of these immigrants were undocumented by the time they were able to escape their forced-labor jobs, according to the Urban Institute study.

For questions on AB 589 or to schedule an interview with Assemblywoman Gonzalez, contact Sami Gallegos (209) 658-7617.