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October 2nd, 2008
Human Trafficking in California

Earlier this week, California passed two pieces of legislation to protect victims of human trafficking — individuals who are bought, sold, transported, and used as forced laborers or prostitutes — “modern-day slavery,” as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger described it.

One of the new bills creates a counseling and treatment program for trafficked and sexually exploited minors. The other bill, recognizing that a majority of people trafficked into the United States are non-citizens without valid immigration documents, requires thorough investigation of trafficking cases regardless of citizenship status and allows victims to keep their names out of public record.

A report published last year by the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force asserts that “California is a top destination for human trafficking. The state’s extensive international border, its major harbors and airports, its powerful economy and accelerating population, its large immigrant population and its industries make it a prime target for traffickers.”

According to the State Department, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. Of those, an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 are trafficked into the United States annually, lured by deceptive promises of good jobs and better lives, and then deprived of their freedom and forced to work under brutal and inhuman conditions. Though specific data doesn’t exist for the number of people trafficked into the state of California, it is believed that thousands a year are smuggled in from Mexico, China, and other foreign countries, and coerced to work with minimal or no pay in sweatshops, agricultural labor, construction labor, hotel and restaurant services, illegal transport, organized theft rings, pornography, prostitution, and domestic services. 80% of victims of trafficking are women and girls; 50% are minors.

Gov. Schwarzenegger enacted California’s first anti-trafficking law in September 2005, establishing human trafficking as a crime and making it a felony punishable by up to eight years in state prison. Since human trafficking was first recognized by the U.S. government as a federal crime in 2000, about 30 states have enacted criminal provisions against it.

WIDE ANGLE’s 2003 documentary Dying to Leave explored the global problem of human trafficking from the point of view of several victims, including the story of a Mexican worker who was smuggled into California and forced into slave labor.

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