There are an estimated 403,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in the United States (GSI 2018). The US attracts migrants and refugees who are particularly at risk of vulnerability to human trafficking. Trafficking victims often responding to fraudulent offers of employment in the US migrate willingly and are subsequently subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude in industries such as forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.
Raymundo travelled from Mexico to California for work. He was promised it would be legal and took out a loan from his trafficker to pay for his visa. Upon arrival, he was forced to live in a room with 34 other men who had been trafficked. Raymundo was forced to work long hours under constant surveillance and threats of deportation. Raymundo was able to escape after approaching an inspector that had come to assess the farm.
My name is Raymundo. I was recruited from Mexico to work on a farm in California. I was promised that my work would be legal and that I would be paid $11.10 an hour for at least forty hours of work per week. I was happy to start working and I was ready to send money to my family back home.
To pay for my visa, I had to take out a loan of 10,000 pesos from my trafficker. They promised me that I would earn enough money so I thought I could work off my debt. But when I arrived in California, everything was different.
I lived in a single room with 34 other men who had also been trafficked. I was immediately told that I had to follow rules. I was not allowed to leave the camp, nobody was allowed to visit me, and all lights had to be turned off by 10pm.
A man working for our trafficker monitored us. He would tell us that our trafficker had a lot of power and money and that he could take our visas away at any time and deport us back to Mexico.
We never worked the 40 hours promised by our trafficker. Our hours were inconsistent, but we were too afraid to say anything.
One day an inspector visited the camp and we were told not to speak with him, or else we would be deported. I was terrified but I still spoke with the inspector and signed a paper. When my trafficker learned what I did, he called the police. But we soon found out that the police couldn’t arrest us just because we complained about our employer.
It was through the inspectors that I learned about my rights and that we were being exploited and manipulated by our trafficker.
Now, I work for a farm where I feel respected and welcomed. My family and I are together and we are happy to have escaped my trafficker, but we are lucky.
I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.
If I had known my rights, my traffickers would have had less control over me and my fellow workers.
I was happy when I heard of the protections put in place in California in 2014 for temporary workers under SB477; however, I was so sad to learn the measures in place only protect H-2B visa workers in CA and leaves others unprotected. I was an H2A worker and, as currently interpreted, SB 477 would not have protected me.
Due to COVID-19, I know many are out of work and I worry about people back in my small town in Mexico being recruited to work the same way I was. Temporary visa holders like me who work on farms need more protection than ever before.
This is why I’m sharing what happened to me with Freedom United and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) to help spread the word about my story and demand better protection for farmworkers and all temporary workers who come to California.
Take action, and sign Freedom United’s petition calling on the California State Legislature to amend Senate Bill 477.
We need to make sure all temporary migrant workers are better protected, regardless of their visa category. Many are still at risk of being trafficked and coerced into forced labor. But together, we can change this.
Join me today in urging California to increase labor protections for temporary workers.
Together, we can ensure that temporary workers are not at risk of being forced to work under the threat of deportation like I was.Narrative credited to CAST-LA and Freedom United