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Recognizing the 10th Anniversary of the Landmark El Monte Garment Slavery Case

Location: Washington DC


FRIDAY, JULY 29, 2005

Ms. SOLIS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the 10th Anniversary of the landmark El Monte garment worker slavery case.

In 1995, I was shocked to learn one of the worst sweatshops in recent U.S. history was operating in the city of El Monte, California--in my congressional district. Seventy-two Thai workers lived and worked in substandard conditions. Sixty-seven of them were women. Most of these workers had been held in slavery for up to 17 years at an apartment complex and were made to sew clothes for some of the Nation's top manufacturers and retailers. The workers labored over 18 hours a day in a compound enclosed by barbed wire and armed guards. They had left their homes in Thailand in search of a better life and wound up enslaved just outside Los Angeles.

While the El Monte sweatshop is a terrible example of substandard working conditions and human trafficking, it is not uncommon. Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year for forced labor, domestic servitude, or sexual exploitation. When including the number of victims who are trafficked within borders, the total number rises to between 2 and 4 million.

Approximately 50,000 people are trafficked to the United States each year. Los Angeles is one of three major ports of entry for human trafficking. Most come from Southeast Asia and the former Soviet Union. About half of those are forced into sweatshop labor and domestic servitude similar to the El Monte sweatshop. The rest are forced into prostitution and the sex industry, or in the case of young children, kidnapped and sold for adoption. While many victims come willingly, they are not aware of the untenable terms and inhumane conditions they will face.

I have worked very hard--in the California state legislature and now in Congress--to support efforts to eliminate this inhumane and criminal activity. Beginning with the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act passed in 2000, the United States began a concerted effort to combat human trafficking into the United States and around the world.

Established under this law, the ``T'' visa has been critical to combating trafficking in the U.S. These visas allow victims of trafficking, who would face retribution if they were sent back to their home country, to remain in the U.S. for 3 years, and then apply for permanent residency. The ``T'' visa has allowed many victims of trafficking realize their dream of living in the U.S.

In 2003, Congress renewed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and increased funding for anti-trafficking programs by more than $100 million for each fiscal year. The act also refined and expanded on the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking that governments must meet. The legislation created a yearly ``special watch list'' of countries that the Secretary of State determined were not taking action to combat human trafficking.

In 2005, Congress will again renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this important legislation, which will close loopholes and increase assistance to victims of trafficking. The bill also addresses the needs of child victims of trafficking and directs relevant government agencies to develop anti-trafficking strategies for post-conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies abroad.

We have made progress since 1995 when the El Monte slavery case thrust the issue of human trafficking into the national spotlight. We must continue our work to eliminate trafficking within the United States. We must also work with foreign governments and non-governmental organizations abroad to end human trafficking and eliminate the conditions that foster trafficking, such as widespread poverty, crisis and warfare.

I am proud to join the Thai Community Development Center to recognize the 10th Anniversary of the Landmark El Monte Garment Slavery Case. This organization has been an amazing force working to raise awareness and efforts in eliminating slavery and trafficking. It is my privilege to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Thai community and to honor the Thai workers.

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