JACQUELINE A. BERRIEN, Chair
STUART J. ISHIMARU, Commissioner
CONSTANCE S. BARKER, Commissioner
CHAI R. FELDBLUM, Commissioner
VICTORIA A. LIPNIC, Commissioner
P. DAVID LOPEZ, General Counsel
PEGGY R. MASTROIANNI, Associate Legal Counsel
BERNADETTE B. WILSON, Program Analyst
This transcript was produced from video tapes provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Good morning, everyone.
MS. WILSON: Good morning.
CHAIR BERRIEN: This meeting of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will now come to order. Thank you all for being here. In accordance with the Sunshine Act, today's meeting is open to public observation of the Commission's deliberations and voting.
At this time, I'm going to ask Bernadette Wilson to announce any notation votes that have taken place since the last Commission meeting, Ms. Wilson.
MS. WILSON: Good morning, and before we begin, can I ask if there is anyone in need of an interpreter? Thank you.
Good morning, again. Good morning, Madam Chair, Commissioners, I'm Bernadette Wilson from the Executive Secretariat. We'd like to remind our audience that questions and comments from the audience are not permitted during the meeting, and we ask that you carry on any conversations outside the meeting room, departing and reentering as quietly, as possible. Also, please take this opportunity to turn your cell phones off, or to vibrate mode.
I would also like to remind the audience that in case of emergency, there are exit doors to the right and left as you exit this room. Additionally, the restrooms are down the hall to the right and left of the elevators.
During the period November 16th, 2010 through January 17th, 2011, the Commission acted on seven items by notation vote:
Approved amicus participation in one case;
Approved translation services to support a litigation case;
Approved comments to the Solicitor General on Velasquez-Ortiz v. Vilsack;
Approved a subpoena determination;
Approved regulations to implement the Equal Employment provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act, as amended; and
Approved resolutions honoring A. Luis Lucero, Jr., and Homer C. Floyd on their retirements.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you, Ms. Wilson. And now we'll have opening statements from the Members of the Commission, and we'll begin with Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Great. Thank you, Madam Chair. First, let me congratulate my colleagues on their confirmation to the Commission. I know Commissioner Barker and I have been long waiting this to happen, and to have it all happen all at once seemed like a jackpot, a bonanza, so congratulations to my colleagues.
I'm delighted you called this meeting Madam Chair. For me, this has been a longstanding matter of personal interest. I had the luxury of serving at the Department of Justice with Ambassador CdeBaca when he was there in the Civil Rights Division prosecuting these cases, and it's been long my impression that one way to get to this troubling issue is to have increased coordination among the various entities who deal with it. And quite often, trafficking is seen as a criminal matter solely, and the civil side of it and the work we do here at the Commission never really rises up. And I think by having this meeting, and by raising the level of awareness here at the Commission; we do great service to the fact that this troubling issue around the country and around the world merits our attention as a Civil Rights enforcement agency.
When I was at the Department of Justice I worked with what was then called the Worker Exploitation Task Force, which took -- was under the leadership of the Solicitor of Labor, and the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, where all of these things were coordinated back in the `90s. And I thought that coordination taught me, as a general matter, that it's important for government agencies, who generally don't deal with each other, to talk, and to raise these issues before the crisis hits. And I thought it yielded great benefits to the prosecution of this from both the criminal side of the house, and the civil side of the house, as well.
It also taught me that trafficking is a bipartisan issue. I remember going to Capitol Hill to brief Senator Brownback back in the late 1990s, and I went up there not knowing much about Senator Brownback except the profile that I read about him on the car ride up. And we had a very thoughtful conversation about the dangers and the horrors of trafficking and how he was committed on both a personal and professional level to try to eradicate it. And I think this is certainly one issue that crosses party lines and the horrors of these misdeeds really needs to be combated.
Certainly, for us at the EEOC, I'm glad we're looking at this issue beyond just the strict confines of sex trafficking. One thing that we did at the Department of Justice when I was there was to go after modern-day slavery, as we put it. This was not limited to certain types of trafficking, but to all types of trafficking. And I'm delighted that we are taking that same approach here today at this meeting and in the work we do at the EEOC.
We've done some important work in the past. I know we're going to hear today from Anna Park about the work that they've done in the Trans Bay case. We've done important work in the Pickle case in Texas. And it's important, I think, for us at the EEOC to raise the level of awareness among all of our staffers to make sure that people can recognize trafficking when they see it, to recognize migrant flows when they happen, to deal with this issue in places where we haven't dealt with it before. So, I am hopeful, Madam Chair, that we can use this meeting, use this hearing as an impetus to spread the word among the employees of the Commission that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed and dealt with when it pops up, no matter where it occurs. So I look forward to the testimony today. And, again, thank you for calling this meeting.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you Commissioner, Commissioner Barker?
COMMISSIONER BARKER: Thank you Madam Chair. I'd like to, first, express my appreciation to you for bringing this meeting today. I think this is a very important hearing. And also, I want to express my appreciation to Commissioner Ishimaru for all the work that he and his staff did to really pull together some experts who can help us really understand the whole issue of trafficking, and not just -- globally, and in the United States, and to really address what part the EEOC can play in it.
This is of particular interest to me because for several years my staff and I have been focused on the issue of young immigrant women who come to the United States. Maybe they are first generation immigrants, maybe their parents came here, but they are young women who often have language difficulties, often aren't knowledgeable or comfortable with cultural differences, maybe don't know what our laws are that would protect them from sexual violence in the workplace, or if they do know those laws; then they don't have confidence that they can report an incident of sexual violence in the workplace and be supported in it.
Now that is not to say that every incident of sexual violence against a young female immigrant in the workplace is a trafficking issue; it is not. And, for the most part, we look to the Department of Justice, Department of Labor; Justice to enforce the criminal side of trafficking, and Labor, the civil side. But there is a small area where the EEOC does have jurisdiction, and we want to focus on that small intersection of our jurisdiction with the jurisdiction of other federal agencies today to see what role we can play.
And I think it's important as we explore this whole issue today to not get caught up in thinking that the EEOC is positioned to address all of these problems. We certainly are not, because we do have limited jurisdiction. But, hopefully, by examining the issues today we'll be able to really define that, and focus more on what we can do.
One thing that I think we need to really be aware of is, the EEOC is a very different agency in a lot of ways, and in a lot of ways we are positioned different from agencies to do different things to combat trafficking. And one of the roles we can play is on the prevention side, which I think is critically important. And this brings me back to the work we're doing with young immigrant women; and that is, it is so important that we use our resources to get out and reach out to these people, and educate them, and build the connection so that they have the confidence that they can come to us, and we will help them out, whether we have jurisdiction or not. If we don't have jurisdiction, hopefully, they'll have the confidence to know that we will get them to the people who do. So, I think that's a critical role that we can play.
The EEOC has 53 offices throughout the United States, and in each of those offices, we are working to encourage them to really focus on building those community relationships, so that victims will know -- communities they belong to will know who to go to. They'll know who the EEOC is, and they'll know that we are a real resource.
So, with that in mind, I'd like to extend my appreciation to Ambassador CdeBaca, in particular, for coming today. But also, I'd like to give my applause and appreciation to President Obama for raising the whole human trafficking issue to a Cabinet-level concern. And, also, I'd like to extend my sincere appreciation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the work that she has done in the human trafficking issue, but more particularly, all the work she has done for years to focus on women's issues, and violence against women issues. And I think the very fact that she chose to add the United States to the annual human trafficking report the Secretary of State's office does every year shows her genuine commitment to this issue. So, thank you again, and I look forward to the testimony.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you Commissioner, Commissioner Feldblum?
COMMISSIONER FELDBLUM: Thank you. Thank you Madam Chair. Thank you for putting together this meeting.
Technology, not exactly, well, actually, it's been more my strong suit lately, but -- I am very much looking forward to hearing what people have to say at this meeting today. I'm very pleased that Commissioner Ishimaru pointed out the need for coordination between agencies. I think one of the things that's been quite clear to me is that you've got the strength and the weakness of the federal government is, in fact, the bigness of the federal government. We are so big that there is lots of capacity to do very good things, but if you don't have coordination and synergy; that potential will not be realized.
So within that, again, as a scholar and teacher of Statutory Interpretation, I'm particularly conscious of what our jurisdiction is. And I'm particularly interested in figuring out what is the right piece of the EEOC within that coordination. And I think some of the cases that we've brought, that the agency has brought already, and I'm very happy that Anna Park is here, who has done so much for the agency, generally in terms of the litigation she’s led, but I'm very much looking forward in terms of hearing about that case, and particularly pleased that we can have one of the charging parties of the case here, because we have no case without charging parties. So I am particularly interested in understanding what our jurisdiction is and how that fits in, and how that can be leveraged.
I was struck by something that Ambassador CdeBaca said to me just right before this meeting about how, if you don't have as a baseline the eradication of slavery in work; having civil rights laws is not really going to help. I mean it's like putting -- having like this band-aid on something. So, I do believe that regardless of what's in our statutory jurisdiction in terms of civil rights enforcement; we have an obligation to see the big picture and understand our obligations overall, in terms of making sure that workers can work, and work with dignity.
So, finally, I'm particularly interested in hearing about the type of training that our employees should get so they understand both what they should be looking for in terms of what's in our jurisdiction, and what they should be looking for in terms of working synergistically with other agencies. And I'm also particularly interested, so I'm very glad Commissioner Barker referenced this, about the type of public education we can do, both education for folks once they get here, and maybe education in host countries, where people are coming from, so before they come, they have some sense of what to be looking for and guarding against.
So with all of that, thank you Madam Chair for this hearing, and I look forward to our witnesses.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you Commissioner. And Commissioner Lipnic?
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: Thank you Madam Chair, and my thanks to you for organizing this meeting today, and to, in particular, Commissioner Ishimaru for he and his staff taking the lead in putting this meeting together today. And welcome to our witnesses. We appreciate your generously sharing your time and effort with us today so that we can certainly hear from the experts and the advocates regarding this important and deeply troubling issue.
And let me associate myself with the comments of my fellow Commissioners, and thank you, Commissioner Ishimaru, all confirmed Commissioners, in your comments both about the EEOC's jurisdiction in this area, and understanding sort of where we can be effective, and, also, coordination among other federal agencies. As Commissioner Ishimaru mentioned, this has been a bipartisan effort for many years, and I also underscore Commissioner Barker's comments in terms of where the EEOC can be active on the front end, and trying to be very active in prevention of a crime like this.
Human trafficking is certainly an unconscionable crime. Apart from the physical and mental abuse suffered by its victims, the crime is one that should be particularly appalling to all of us as Americans, in that it uses the promise of a better life in America to lure individuals, often with little or no education, to this country into a life of forced servitude.
Like Commissioner Ishimaru, these cases are ones to which I bring some additional firsthand federal enforcement experience. When I served as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment Standards, the Wage and Hour Division was one of the areas within my portfolio. And in the agricultural industry, in particular, Wage and Hour was responsible for the enforcement of the Migrant Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, MSPA, which provides workplace protections for migrant farm workers.
More broadly, however, throughout the industries, the Wage and Hour Division enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act; the fundamental law which sets the terms and conditions of our nation's wage and hour laws concerning overtime, and the minimum wage. And one of the laws that all of us, I've always believed, just take for granted, the fact that you can work, and get paid in this country is something that I think we often fail to appreciate the ease with which that happens in this country.
During my tenure, Wage and Hour partnered with federal, state, and local authorities to address human trafficking. Dozens of human trafficking task forces were created across the country, each led by a U.S. Attorney's Office. The Wage and Hour Division at that time was often uniquely situated to identify potential trafficking cases, especially in low wage industries.
These cases were then referred to the regional task force for prosecution. To be clear, Wage and Hour investigators, generally, did not actively participate in work site raids often because it was their responsibility to forge and retain strong relationships with those subjected to trafficking, so as to further an investigation. And again, I underscore Commissioner Barker's comments about the importance of establishing those community relationships with organizations so that people feel comfortable, and understand that they have a place to go to where they might otherwise be afraid to go to enforcement authorities.
At the time I was at the Labor Department, the Wage and Hour Division participated in many success stories that combated human trafficking. And in one high-profile case on Long Island in 2007, the Department participated in an investigation that led to the conviction of persons charged with involuntary servitude, conspiracy, and forced labor. This was a case in which domestic workers had their passports confiscated by their employer, and were subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, and 20-hour work days, and were paid only about $100 per month. Due to the efforts of the Wage and Hour Division and others, the people perpetrating these crimes were put behind bars. It seems unfathomable that in this country, in this day and age, such behavior continues. But, as we will hear this morning, it too often does.
I am eager to hear from all of our witnesses today, and in particular, how the agency of which I am now a part, EEOC, within its available resources, and within our mission can best partner to bring an end to these heinous practices. I welcome our witnesses again. Thank you for participating, and yield back my time.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you very much, Commissioner.
And I want to, first of all, welcome all of the witnesses who have come to join the Commission today, and to speak to us. Many of you have traveled from across the country, even, and those who have traveled from across the city all have made time, and taken time out of their very busy schedules to be here, and we do appreciate that. And I thank you on behalf of the entire Commission.
I was in Cincinnati, Ohio to participate in a Dr. Martin Luther King Day holiday observance last weekend, and I had the chance to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center while I was there. It is a remarkable Center in many respects, and well worth visiting whenever you are in the Cincinnati area, I believe. But it was especially fitting that I would have the opportunity to visit it just a few days before this meeting of the Commission.
The Center has an extraordinary exhibit entitled "Invisible: Slavery Today," which presents graphic and compelling information about contemporary human trafficking, and forced labor. According to the Freedom Center's website, which I also commend to you, between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked internationally, and as many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States.
I would like to borrow the term that was used by my colleague, Commissioner Lipnic, and say that in many respects, that is unfathomable in the United States today. And yet, the witnesses who are joining us today and the work of our offices across the country suggest that while it is unfathomable, and deplorable, it nevertheless is a reality, and a harsh reality of the nation that we must confront and address as thoroughly as we can, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
I want to, again, thank the -- my colleagues on the Commission, particularly Commissioner Ishimaru, and his special assistant, Jacinta Ma, who have worked very, very hard to bring this important meeting together. I thank Commissioner Barker and her special assistant, Susan Murphy, who have for years worked to bring greater attention to this issue within the Commission, and have played a very important role as well, in organizing today's meeting.
I acknowledge the leadership that the General Counsel, and some of our offices, as represented today by our Regional Attorney from Los Angeles, Anna Park, have done in courts across the country to try to address instances of human trafficking, and to use the laws that we are charged with enforcing, to try to obtain relief and remedies for victims of trafficking.
And finally, I thank all of the members of the Commission, as well as our witnesses, for committing the time and attention to this very, very important topic today. And, Ambassador cDeBACA, we're particularly grateful that you could make time. We know that you're on a very tight schedule, so we will turn quickly to your testimony and remarks, but I join in Commissioner Barker's thanks to you, Commissioner Ishimaru's thanks to you, and also to Secretary of State Clinton, who has done so much to bring attention to this issue, and, generally, to the issue of the status of women across the globe. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CDeBACA: Thank you Madam Chair, and thank you to each of the Commissioners for convening this critical hearing. I think that as Commissioner Ishimaru points out, we have newly confirmed Commissioners. That's great for all of us who care about civil rights enforcement in this country, but also in the world, as the United States -- the work that we do here at home is something that I, and other members of the diplomatic corps take around the world as an example of what we feel are best practices. And having the number of different enforcement agencies that sometimes talk well with each other, and sometimes talk with each other, and sometimes exist near each other; is something that this messy democracy that we have really does give an example of how these different, sometimes competing, sometimes overlapping jurisdictions can come together and really put together a chorus of freedom that rings around the world.
I think that, for us, this notion of the first hearing, now that everyone's been confirmed, comes back to the notion of first things first. And if we look at, and I promise not to have too much of a history debate today, but I think that if you look at the history of civil rights enforcement in the United States, certainly since the first Roosevelt administration; we see that the Thirteenth Amendment was the locus for much of federal civil rights enforcement until the backs of the sharecropping system were broken in the Supreme Court case of Polluck v. Williams in 1946-1947. Only after the system of peonage, of state-sponsored, or state-sanctioned involuntary servitude was finally put to rest by federal enforcement efforts were we able to move on to Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment jurisprudence that we tend to think of as the hallmark of the modern civil rights era. One only need look at the Library of Congress archives to see the letters, the plaintive horrible letters written by parents around the United States to Justice Marshall and others at the NAACP begging for help; the same type of letters that could be written by a mother from Thailand, a father from Mexico, an aunt or uncle from Africa; please help me find my child. They promised him a good job, now he's in West Virginia. I think he's working in the mine. I don't know, can you help us?
Those voices from the 1930s, from the 1920s spur us in the Obama Administration to not simply think of this as a new cutting edge issue, though it is a new and cutting edge issue, as we take civil rights into the 21st century, but also a promise that was made by the United States almost 150 years ago, the promise of emancipation, the promise of freedom. And there have been a lot of things done in the last 10 years. There has been a lot of energy around this issue in the last decade. Most notably, in 2000 the United States made another attempt to update our involuntary servitude statutes, this time under the umbrella term of human trafficking. Despite the term itself, we've come to recognize that human trafficking not as a crime of movement, but rather at its heart, the dehumanizing practice of holding someone in compelled service using whatever means necessary, whether physical, or psychological. And much of what we've done in the last 10 years has been to incorporate the lessons learned in the domestic violence, in sexual violence movements of the last 30 years so that we understand the impact of relations of power, psychological manipulation, structural problems, not simply the cases in which people are locked in, or locked down.
A crime, to be sure, but a crime that can only be solved by all parts of government being brought to bear, whether criminal or civil enforcement. And we've come to understand that this is not just happening overseas, but is here at home. As Commissioner Barker said, this year the Trafficking and Persons report, the 10th version of it, for the first time included the United States. We felt, and we appreciate the input, and the cooperation with the Commission in the preparation of that United States narrative. We felt, and, in fact, in the months since the narrative and the inclusion of the United States in the trafficking report have been out, we feel that the jury is in, whether it's in the reaction of countries around the world to the inclusion of the United States in the report, or whether it's the reaction that we've seen on Capitol Hill within the Administration, within the academy, that the United States narrative is a valuable tool, a snapshot, as you will, of modern slavery in the United States, where we've found that trafficking occurs for both sex and labor. We found that sex trafficking occurs in places that would surprise us all, that labor trafficking manifests itself in areas such as domestic service, agriculture, manufacturing, construction, strip club dancing, the places that one would normally think, but also in janitorial, hotels, health and elder care, and even hair and nail salons.
One of the other things that we found as we looked at and applied the global minimum standards for the eradication of trafficking of persons to the United States fact pattern, is that many of the women subjected to labor trafficking here in the United States are not just held in servitude, but suffer ongoing routine sexual predation at the hands of their exploitative bosses. We feel, perhaps blurring the lines, the lines that seem so clear when one is simply thinking from a theoretical or a political perspective, between sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and calling upon us to look past our own labels, and our own assumptions, to look at the reality of the women who are enslaved across this country.
Few would fail to recognize that reality if they saw a situation where someone was locked in a brothel, or workers were locked in a factory, denied wages, and subjected to physical abuse, but many workers can be victims of fraudulent recruitment practices, such as work offers that misrepresent conditions, excessive recruitment fees, contracts that they can't understand, or the switching of terms of employment after the original contract has been signed, sometimes we have seen actually on the tarmac at the airport when it's too late. So too, some workers incur large debts for promised employment in the United States or other countries, making them susceptible to debt bondage, and involuntary servitude as they are entangled in a web of deceit and coercion. So we've seen passport confiscation, threats of deportation, non-payment, limited payment of wages, restriction of movement, isolation from the community, and physical abuse, all used as a means of holding the victims in compelled service. And, as I mentioned earlier, the traffickers often use rape as a weapon, whether in the field, factory, suburban home, or brothel.
While there is a perception that this exists only among the undocumented, as we did the research for including the United States in the trafficking report last year; it became clear that vulnerabilities exist for legal workers, as well, often filling labor needs in the hospitality, landscaping, construction, food service, or agricultural industries, and even for United States citizens made vulnerable by addiction, mental challenges, or homelessness.
Luckily, the last decade has seen new structures put in place to combat this ancient crime. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 created a coordinated federal government response at the Cabinet-level, through the President's Inter-Agency Task Force, scheduled to meet in about a week on National Freedom Day, the anniversary of the day that President Lincoln sent the Thirteenth Amendment to Congress to begin the ratification process. And we're pleased that the Chair will be attending representing the EEOC at that meeting.
There's also a Sub-Cabinet coordinating body, the Senior Policy Operating Group, and we'll be holding our quarterly meeting tomorrow. Commissioner Ishimaru has offered thoughtful leadership as the EEOC representative, just as he did over a decade ago when forming the National Worker Exploitation Task Force. And I think it's one of those places where we can come together, perhaps out of our own jurisdictions, and really think in a whole of government approach.
The work that Commissioner Ishimaru has done on our Working Group, as far as federal procurement issues are concerned, federal procurement not something that the Commissioners and the Commission typically are working on; but an important voice, especially as we're thinking about the slavery footprint, as it were; that we as one of the largest consumers in the United States, perhaps in the world, whether it's Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, or even smaller Cabinet agencies, we make purchasing decisions. We can ask the same questions that we would suggest that consumers ask about where their products are coming from, and whether they have been scrubbed of modern slavery.
In the written testimony, and I'll refer to that, because I know that we're running short on time, there are highlights of the work of the Inter-Agency, and what has been done. Suffice it to say that for all that the Obama Administration and its predecessors in the Bush Administration have done, and there has been a lot, there is more to do. The Thirteenth Amendment is not a one-time thing. It is an ongoing promise, and therefore, an ongoing responsibility.
The EEOC is perfectly poised to deliver on that promise, because its core mission is to protect people within the workplace. What first presents itself as sexual harassment may reveal through skillful interviewing a situation of coerced labor. Thus, the EEOC staff has to be well-versed in the trafficking indicators. They can insure that attorneys representing clients before the Commission have access to training and resources, that State Fair Employment agencies are brought to bear, and that offices around the country can participate in the federally funded trafficking task forces.
With these knowledge bases, and proper resources, the Commission and its partners in civil enforcement could dramatically increase the number of trafficking victims identified. And where a case doesn't fully make out a criminal trafficking situation, civil litigation is important; to make sure that the federal interest is vindicated, as has been the case so often in workplaces as diverse as egg farms, welding yards, and garment factories.
These types of cases have already been brought on behalf of victims of modern slavery, and we'll be hearing about that throughout the day. I urge the Commissioners and staff to recognize that these types of cases are not simply employment discrimination cases, but also what we've come to call, human trafficking. Because ever-present in our work should be the victims and the NGOs that assist them. We don't just have the responsibility to punish the trafficker, but to offer assistance, and to restore the victim. These tools exist as well, for the EEOC, including the program such as Continued Presence, T and U visas, and the vast network of federally funded anti-trafficking NGOs offering victim services.
I'd encourage the Commission to examine the current policies to insure that these tools are widely understood, and implemented, and that victim's access to them is not burdensome. Collectively, we have the experience now and the information to look at, and to identify the industries in which human trafficking is too often found. Now it's our duty not to wait for victims to come to us, but for us to find and dismantle, by any means necessary, criminal or civil, these illegal operations that reduce people to conditions of modern slavery.
In this modern abolitionist movement, we often talk about the three Ps; Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution. But without partnerships, these modern laws and policies just remain words on a page, helping no one, preventing nothing. The Commission is a critical partner in this fight, and I'm honored to appear before you today. Thank you.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you, Ambassador. Ambassador CDeBACA, and the biographies of all of our witnesses today are on the website of the EEOC, but I will also just note that the Ambassador is a Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State in the office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons for the U.S. Department of State. We're honored you're here today.
I want to remind all of my colleagues, and everyone present that we will use our timing lights, and when the yellow warning light goes on, it signals that one minute remains. The red light indicates time has expired.
I turn now for questions from Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Great. Thank you, Madam Chair. And thank you, Ambassador CDeBACA. I think the country is well-served. I want to commend President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton on your appointment. I think having someone with your background, your experience in dealing with this issue, your credibility among organizations, both in this country and around the world, speaks volumes to the importance of this issue for our country and the need to eradicate it.
I'd like to touch on sort of a technical issue that you raised in your testimony, and I know just from our past work when you and I were working together at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, about the difficulties of dealing with this issue in the insular areas of the United States. You talk in your testimony about the role of the Department of Interior in this area. And I know for us, at the EEOC, and Anna Park, our Regional Attorney from Los Angeles now has jurisdiction over many of the insular areas of the United States, like the Mariana Islands; how difficult it is, both distance and resource-wise, and I remember at the Department of Justice having to buy plane tickets for prosecutors to go back and forth over long distances, going sometimes transiting through Tokyo to get to where you needed to go, but how difficult that was; yet, so much of the work needed to be done in those areas. Can you talk more about what the Department of Interior is doing, and what you're seeing on a global level to try to deal with this in areas that quite often are overlooked by the enforcement agencies here in this country?
AMBASSADOR CDEBACA: Certainly, and thank you for pointing that out. I think one of the things that I learned as a young prosecutor going out to the insular areas, and certainly have learned since then is, just how big the United States actually is. We often talk about Russia, and its eleven time zones, but the United States spans both sides of the Date Line. And the United States, having such reach, means that the constitutional protections of the Thirteenth Amendment, the Civil Rights Act, and other things also have that longer reach.
We have found in the last decade that there were gaps. Some of those gaps were filled in the last Congress with the enactment of legislation bringing federal law to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where so many of the abuses that had been seen in the garment industry and in forced prostitution over the last decade stemmed from the notion that as part of the Compact of Association, certain labor and immigration laws were kept for the local government. I think that the federalization of the insular possessions, especially what we've seen in the last couple of years, is going to make a big difference on that.
That doesn't, however, obviate the reality of the map. One of the things that I saw when doing cases in American Samoa, as well as in Guam, is that the EEOC lawyers, the Wage and Hour folks, everyone having to depend, in many ways, upon their local counterparts, local counterparts who, perhaps, don't have the same skill set, don't have the experience in bringing these cases, or in the case of America Samoa, may have to fly seven hours to the north to go to court in Hawaii.
So, I think that as we've seen, first of all, the changes in law, we'll be working with the Department of Interior. Even as we speak, but, well, not as we speak, but in a few hours because of the time zone change; the Justice Department, Immigration, and others have folks out in Guam, holding a training for not just our partners from our insular possessions, but from the source countries, as well, either your Tongas, your Kiribas, my federated States of Micronesia, Philippines, et cetera, coming together for the first time in a Pan-Pacific approach, a week-long training. We hope to hear, frankly, a readout tomorrow at the Senior Policy Operating Group from DOI, as to how that training is going, but we really think that by having the United States play this leadership role in the region on both civil and criminal enforcement; it's going to make a big difference.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: That's great. Well, I am so delighted that you are there at the Department of State, and that the Administration, and the government, generally, has taken an increased interest in this. And again, the coordination of these efforts are vital. I think we here at the EEOC are strengthened by having Commissioner Lipnic with us, who has vast experience during her days at the Department of Labor. I know one of the things that was helpful to us at the Department of Justice, when I was there, was having these meetings, and being able to deal with people from then the Immigration and Nationality Service, now over at Department of Homeland Security; but to have those conversations before the crisis hits, and that's important.
So, again, Ambassador CDeBACA, thank you for your excellent work on this issue.
AMBASSADOR CDeBACA: Thank you Commissioner.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you Commissioner, Commissioner Barker?
COMMISSIONER BARKER: Thank you again, Ambassador CDeBACA. And I second what Commissioner Ishimaru just said about the importance of the coordination effort that the State Department is leading. And I think if the EEOC is going to play a vital role in what we're doing; it's important that at the federal level there be some direction down to the local level, because it all happens in the local level. But if there is not the direction, the emphasis at the top; then it's not going to get the emphasis at the local level. So, where you have like Labor, and Justice, and EEOC working as a coordinated effort to identify and bank their resources, and decide how to approach a particular incident, a reported trafficking incident; that's going to work successfully if you've got the folks at the top letting them know that it's a real priority with the Administration, and with the State Department, that all these agencies put their own priorities and their own, frankly, egos aside, and work cooperatively at the local level to get in there and figure out who can do what best, and get it done.
So, you're a real leader in this coordinated effort, and I really applaud what you are doing, especially someone with your credentials, and appreciate again your taking the time to come and address us today. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CDeBACA: Thank you Commissioner Barker. I think that one of the things that has to be on our to-do list, as we see states now passing their human trafficking legislation, I think at this point, don't quote me on this, but I think 46 states and territories have passed comprehensive trafficking legislation; is that notion of who are our state counterparts. The natural response from all of us, I think, has been that it's the state police, or the Attorneys General, or whomever, but we need to also be looking at Child Protective Services; we need to be looking at the State Fair Labor Commissioners; your counterparts at the state level, as well. I think that if we fail to have that conversation, we will have put together a joint civil/criminal whole of government approach at the federal level, and we will be talking only with vice cops at the state level. And so we need to make sure that we, as we put together this relationship between the federal and state anti-trafficking efforts, that we don't lose track of that. So I think that that's something that we're going to probably want to be looking at over the course of the next year, and we'll let you know how it goes, but we'll also probably try to draft you for a little bit of that conversation.
COMMISSIONER BARKER: Thank you again.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you, Commissioner Feldblum?
COMMISSIONER FELDBLUM: Thank you Madam Chair, and thank you Ambassador for your testimony.
I'd like to ask you to reflect a bit on what you see as the intersection between these issues and disability in two respects. One is, it is my sense that in this country, we have in some pockets some significant problems of people with intellectual disabilities, mental retardation, autism, et cetera, who are being exploited. So I'm wondering what role -- how that was dealt with in the report, as well as what you see as the type of interconnections with communities that serve people with intellectual disabilities. So, that's one piece.
And then the other piece, I was struck not only by your comments, but just in various things I've read about how the constraints are obviously, not just physical constraints that are keeping people within that servitude, but also emotional, a feeling that they can't get out. And I'm wondering what you see as the sort of services, and activities that we can take to address what might be almost like situational psychiatric disabilities in that moment?
AMBASSADOR CDeBACA: That's an excellent question, and it's something that we are beginning to see more and more in other countries, countries perhaps that don't have the same understanding of mental health issues as we do in the United States. Understanding and response being two different things, I think that we know that we can do better on mental health issues, but compare that to so many countries around the world where we're really just starting to have the conversation about the notion that mental health is a health problem.
One example, and particularly timely with the President's visit is, that of China, where we see over and over in the last few years cases being uncovered in which mentally retarded men are being held in servitude in brick kilns, or mines by the dozens, not simply one-of type of situations. Here in the United States, the leading modern case, the case that made us go back to the drawing board and update our trafficking statutes was actually a case in which, a one-victim case in Southeast Michigan, the Ketsvinsky case, in which a man was held through threats of reinstitutionalization; didn't understand because of his mental disability that he would have been able to run away from the farm. And unfortunately, at the time, the Supreme Court said that since he wasn't locked in, he wasn't held through overt physical force; that the psychological coercion alone wasn't enough. The Ketsvinsky court however, did give us an option, and said that if Congress wants these civil rights protections to apply in that type of situation, it needs to act. It took a decade, but we were able to get it done in 2000.
I think the Ketsvinsky case is a good example, and it's a good touchstone, as far as what we need to do. We've seen these cases time and again over the last decade, whether it's the Kaufman House case in Kansas, where you have folks who I think, again, don't quote me on it, but I think schizophrenic, who were actually being given to a trafficker by the State of Kansas, the traffickers being reimbursed by the State of Kansas for the care that they were supposedly giving to these people, who they were enslaving on their farm for farm work and pornography.
The Evans case, and the Michael Allen Lee case where we see homeless and drug addicted African American men working in the same fields that two generations ago were sharecropped, and six generations ago were populated by chattel slaves; these men picked up on the streets of Orlando, and otherwise preyed upon because of their addiction.
It's a problem, and it's something that we recognize that we need to look at. It's something that we're starting to work with HHS, and we'd love to, again, bring the Commission and the access that you may have into that conversation, so that as we're talking to HHS, it's not simply a matter of first responders and emergency room personnel recognizing the slavery situation when the person is in front of them bleeding, but rather everyone who's working with these populations, recognizes that somebody might not be mentally challenged, or mentally troubled, or having a meltdown, but in fact, may have just escaped from slavery.
COMMISSIONER FELDBLUM: Thank you.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Commissioner Lipnic?
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: Thank you Madam Chair. Ambassador, thank you for being with us today. One question that I have is, by the time that, whether it's the EEOC, or the Justice Department, or the Labor Department is involved, we have victims. And maybe you could tell us a little bit about on the front end, I’m curious about what the State Department is doing and able to do in working with countries around the world to stop this before it starts, before anyone ever gets here and becomes a victim?
AMBASSADOR CDeBACA: Thank you for that question. It is the three P paradigm, so it's not simply prosecution and victim protection, it's also prevention.
I tend to, as people who know me know that I reduce everything to agricultural metaphors. That's what happens when you grow up on a farm. And so, this notion of the three-legged milking stool; if you don't have the prevention piece in place, you really are teetering on it, and you're condemned to chasing a horrible thing that's already happened. Now prevention is hard to measure. We recognize that. We also realize that prevention is more expensive, so we look to our partners over at USAID on so many of the preventative ideals.
One of the things that we've been doing over the last year, and we were able to work with the law school at the University of California-Berkeley to put together the first of what will hopefully be several gatherings of anti-trafficking activists and academics, to look at this issue of prevention; is how do we move the prevention activities and money closer to the problem? We know that women's empowerment arms women against a whole host of social ills, and yet women's empowerment, the fact of women being able to go to graduate school, or to law school, or to get paid an equal wage, does not necessarily prevent them from violence at the hand of a partner or even being recruited for an enslavement type of a situation. And so we don't want to be wasting the development money by thinking of it as a anti-trafficking response, when in fact, it's a much broader response. The rising tide does lift all boats, but if we're spending a finite amount of resources for anti-trafficking activism, we want it to get closer to the problems. This is one of the things that we're really working on with USAID, and with others, is how do we get that close?
One of the things that we're looking to, for instance, in Ukraine, we're going to be signing a bilateral agreement with the Ukrainian Government in the coming weeks. I'm very interested in taking a look at what the victim profile is. Our assumptions about them being the poorest of the poor, and the most vulnerable, seem not to be the case. We're tending to see, and this is certainly what I saw in the cases that I did, it's certainly what the advocacy community who works with these victims tells us, but we've perhaps lost track of this, is that it's not the poorest of the poor, and the most vulnerable, it's the spunky. It's the woman who isn't going to sit back and live in a village in Eastern Moldova with absolutely no options. It's the spunky one who's willing to get up and go, move to the city, put herself in harm's way because she's trying for that better chance for her family.
As we recalibrate the victim profile, we think that we're going to be able to move some of our prevention efforts not so it's the spread 1,000 dandelions and see what sticks, but instead; how do we find those at-risk people, and get our prevention messages that much closer to them?
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: And do you -- is that victim profile -- is there a breakdown by gender?
AMBASSADOR CDeBACA: It's tough, and it's very country-specific, so what you see with young women with some college education in Eastern Europe being the ones who are more likely to be trafficked, isn't necessarily the victim profile that you'd see in West Africa, or what have you. So, we're having to look at that through the research that we do each year assembling the narratives for the report, the snapshots in each country. We're going back over the 10 reports now to start to look at what our victim profiles are in each of these regions, in each of these countries, so that we can then target the prevention efforts.
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: And I had one other question. I was struck by your term that used, the slavery footprint. And you talked, in particular, about the federal procurement. And it seems to me that that offers a lot of opportunity on the prevention side. Maybe you could just elaborate on that a little bit more.
AMBASSADOR CDeBACA: I was shocked to find out recently that you could get a Fair Trade product, I'm not going to hold up this coffee cup, because I don't know where it came from, but you can get a product with a Fair Trade label, or 100 percent organic label on it, and the researchers who will have certified that will not, necessarily, have asked the baseline questions as to whether or not these people, even if they might have gotten minimum wage, or not used pesticides, whether or not they were actually enslaved when they were picking that cocoa, or harvesting those crops, or assembling those goods. And it's one of the things that we're seeing, as far as do we look at a consumer facing label as the situation, so that the individual consumer can make a difference. California has just passed a law requiring the largest companies, companies that do over $100 million of business, it's about 4,000 companies worldwide, and do business in California, will now have to post publicly what their anti-slavery supply chain management policies are for their companies. We think that that transparency will then allow consumers to make informed decisions.
We recognize that we are a consumer, and looking at procurement policy, having those discussions with the Hill, having those discussions, especially with DOD, which has the largest purchasing footprint; we can make a choice, as well, when it comes to tomatoes, shrimp, cotton, et cetera. And it's a conversation that we're beginning to have within the Obama Administration, as to how we can be a responsible consumer. This is, I think, the new face of prevention, structural prevention on our part, but then also, targeted prevention for the potential victims.
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: Thank you again for being here. Thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR BERRIEN: And thank you, Ambassador. I just have two quick questions.
First of all, I wonder -- one of our challenges, of course, is how we target and direct our resources in ways that they will most effectively address a concern or problem. So, I wondered if you could share with us what you know, or what the State Department has learned about any particular parts of the country, or industries within the U.S. where the issue of trafficking is most prevalent?
AMBASSADOR CDeBACA: One of the things that we’ve seen is that the enforcement pattern on the civil side, whether it be here at the EEOC, or over at Department of Labor, in many ways does reflect the pockets of human trafficking. And by pockets, I don't mean where they exist, but it's pockets where there seems to be concentration. And so, because of agricultural patterns in the south continuing to be more stoop labor, as opposed to mechanized labor, we see more cases in the agricultural sector over on the southeast coast. Because of light manufacturing being such an important part of the economy of Southern California; we tend to see more people held in servitude in light manufacturing in that region. And I think that if you chart the Department of Justice prosecutions, as well as the enforcement efforts over the last 10 years by the civil side, it tends to distribute itself in that way. But I think if you change it up and look at market segments, and look at what some of our other cohort countries, destination countries, like Belgium, Germany, France, et cetera, are seeing; there are a couple of patterns that start to emerge. One of the things that we’re very interested in right now is the notion of the janitorial services. The Belgians just did a big case with contract janitors in rest stops along the highways in Belgium that looked an awful lot like the contract janitorial cases that the Department of Justice has brought in the Midwestern states in various hotel chains. And I think that this is, especially -- the interplay between the contractor relationship and this type of service seems to be almost replicating what we've seen, unfortunately, in the farm labor contracting situation, in stoop labor. That's starting to now infiltrate itself into other workplaces, because of contracting relationships. And I think that that's something that we all probably would be well to look at.
CHAIR BERRIEN: And if you could share if there are any best practices, or particular successes in terms of outreach, and in terms of, frankly, reaching the communities or people who are most likely to be victims?
AMBASSADOR CDeBACA: It's interesting because I think that there's -- when one is doing outreach, there are the different theories. There's the micro targeting, but we don't necessarily know yet enough about the victim population to be able to do broad micro targeting. On the other hand, we've seen some examples of success. In the Dominican Republic, a church group put together a radio ad, having talked to a number of survivors as to what kind of music they listened to when they were in the brothels, and figured out what area of the mountains these women were from, and so they made sure that the girl on the ad had the right accent, and they had the right kind of music in the background. And within two or three weeks, I think they received almost 180-200 calls for help from girls who had heard that ad.
I think it's taking that time to listen to the survivors, to listen to the NGOs that are working with them; allows one to do micro targeting, much more so than the ads on a bus station, the ads on a kiosk, or something like that, that are kind of undifferentiating.
But one thing that we haven't necessarily done is, advertise to the good Samaritan population to the degree that, perhaps, would be helpful. It's not necessarily the worker themselves who know that they have rights in America and are going to then fight for it. It may be the person who they confide in that something, something undefined is happening to them in their workplace. It's that American, or that immigrant who's been here longer who can translate for them, convince them that they have rights, and that there's a way to get out. And I think that that kind of one-removed type of marketing, one-removed type of outreach may be one of the ways to go. But I think that some of it comes down to, are we doing advocacy, are we building a movement, are we trying to get people to leave on their own, are we trying to get people to help them? To have this fully formed as a movement, we're going to have to have all of those things happen. For what we do as a government, though, I think that the closer we can get to the victim, and the people who want to help them, the better.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you very much, Ambassador. We are very appreciative of your joining us today, and really opening this meeting with your extremely thoughtful and informed remarks. And you've given us a lot to think about, and a lot to factor into our work. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CDeBACA: Thank you for the opportunity.
CHAIR BERRIEN: And if the members of the second panel could begin to approach, Hilary Axam, Anna Park, Sathaporn Pornsrisirisak, Panida Rzonca, and Ana Vallejo.
Thank you. This panel is entitled, "Labor Trafficking and Exploitation," and our first speaker will be Hilary Axam, Acting Director of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit in the Criminal Section of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Welcome and thank you Ms. Axam.
MS. AXAM: Good morning. Thank you, Madam Chair, and all the honorable Commissioners. I really appreciate the opportunity to participate in this extremely important dialogue about how we can all partner more effectively on human trafficking. And I want to thank Ambassador CDeBACA for his insightful remarks, and for his leadership, in general, on this important and whole of government issue of paramount concern to all of us. As the Ambassador said so eloquently, human trafficking has many faces. It's most easily recognized, at least in the public mind, when it evokes images of undocumented migrants kind of huddled together in inhumane conditions, and restrained with locks and chains, and beaten into submission, but very, very often we're seeing forms of human trafficking that are far more subtle, and far more difficult for the untrained eye to detect, and that is the challenge of our day.
As Congress recognized when it passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, these subtle forms of coercion, the non-violent forms of modern day slavery; can be every bit as powerful as physical abuse, and physical coercion in overcoming the will of vulnerable victims.
Human traffickers often devise complex schemes of psychological coercion to hold their victims in chains of fear, and these are chains that are no less powerful just because they're invisible to the eye. The chains of fear can victimize anyone, documented or undocumented, male or female, uneducated or educated. And we have in recent prosecutions, seen college educated professionals from other countries, because of a lack of economic opportunity, in desperation, fall prey to schemes of deception, and coercion.
Some of these schemes we've recently uncovered and successfully prosecuted have involved false promises to induce impoverished victims to incur insurmountable debts. They appeared surmountable because of the false promises, but they were in fact, completely insurmountable on the economic opportunity that the trafficker knew was being offered.
These traffickers then go on to confiscate identification documents, withhold wages, and use isolation, rules, controls, and psychological manipulation, as well as threats of deportation to play on the victims’ fears, and to compel them into continued service in whatever sector of the economy the trafficker sees as profitable, for little or no pay. And the Department of Justice is committed to eradicating modern day slavery in all of its forms.
Our primary role at the Department of Justice, in our government's broad-based anti-trafficking efforts, is to criminally prosecute trafficking cases in federal court. In doing so, we enforce an array of criminal statutes prohibiting involuntary servitude, forced labor, sex trafficking, document servitude, and related crimes, conspiracy, attempt, obstruction.
We've used these statutes to bring forced labor prosecutions that have liberated a group of Filipino victims from compelled service in hotel service industry jobs in South Dakota. You need look no further than that to know that this happens everywhere in our country.
We've liberated Togolese and Ghanaian young women and girls from enslavement in hair braiding salons in Newark, New Jersey; Jamaican tree cutters who spoke some English, and had lawful visas to come work here, from forced labor in New Hampshire; Central American women and girls from compelled service in restaurants, bars, and cantinas in Houston, Texas, where they were compelled to work 16, 17 hours a day serving overpriced drinks to male clients, and submitting to the degrading sexual advances of those male clients; Vietnamese victims from sweat shops, where they were held in servitude in American Samoa; and victims from Mexico, and from Florida, vulnerable populations made vulnerable by poverty, drug addiction, and lack of economic opportunity, who were exploited for agricultural labor, just like their Mexican and Guatemalan counterparts right here in Florida.
Each of these prosecutions is a forceful declaration that human trafficking is an affront to liberty, and individual rights that cannot be tolerated in a country founded on individual rights and freedoms. And each of these prosecutions demonstrates our nation's commitment to punishing and deterring this intolerable form of oppression.
There are many parts of the Department of Justice that play critical roles in these efforts. The Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit was founded in 2007, as a specialized unit within the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, meant to consolidate the expertise of human trafficking prosecutors, and to lead the prosecution of particularly novel, complex, multi-jurisdictional, and international human trafficking cases alongside our partners in the United States Attorneys' Offices nationwide, who have also become real leaders in some areas in bringing these prosecutions.
Our Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit grew out of the Civil Rights Division's long history of bringing involuntary servitude and slavery cases for decades before passage of the TVPA to eradicate badges and incidents of slavery that occur when somebody's will is overcome, and they're deprived of their dignity and liberty, and compelled into service against their will.
In addition to U.S. Attorneys' Offices, the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit partners with other specialized prosecution units in the Department of Justice. For instance, the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity section, who has subject matter expertise in sexual exploitation of minors, and the Organized Crime and Racketeering section, which has increasingly become our partners in taking on these organized criminal networks that exploit vast numbers of victims, including guest workers through schemes operating across the United States.
And DOJ's efforts are not limited to prosecutions. Our Bureau of Justice Assistance funds 39 anti-trafficking task forces that bring together federal, state, and local law enforcement, other government agencies, as well as non-governmental victim service providers to coordinate. As Commissioner Ishimaru has said, the coordination being so important that everybody know each other before the crisis breaks out. We know what each other's competencies are, and we begin that coordination before the urgent need arises.
Our Office for Victims of Crime also funds the non-governmental organizations who are the experts at stabilizing, and empowering, and protecting victims of human trafficking. These NGO victim advocates, many of them grantees of our Office for Victims of Crime, as well as of our partners at Health and Human Services Anti-Trafficking Program; these NGO advocates, they're a cornerstone of our success in bringing victim-centered prosecutions that vindicate the rights of human trafficking victims, enabling them to speak out as empowered survivors. And without that speaking out, that testimony, that feeling safe to come out of the shadows and relate their experience, we would not be able to bring so many of these prosecutions. We're very grateful to these empowered survivors for their courage, and to the NGO experts who have brought them to that place.
In recent years, through the success of our partnerships with NGOs and across federal, state, local, and foreign governments; we've brought record numbers of human trafficking prosecutions, including record numbers of forced labor cases in each of the five past successive years.
Our cases and investigations have uncovered exploitation of vulnerable workers from every corner of the globe, including from the United States, held in service in just about every region of our country, and also in virtually every sector of our economy, from agriculture, to manufacturing, to service industry, to the illegal economy, including the line between commercial sexual exploitation and other enterprises, nightclubs, brothels, karaoke bars, massage parlors, a lot of that intersection in that gray area between sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
Many of these cases in recent years have been actually unprecedented in their scope, and complexity, and impact involving dozens, or even hundreds of workers, but we've put an incredible amount of effort into cases involving a single exploited individual, or just a few exploited individuals.
In Kansas City, Missouri, turning to one of the high-profile, high-impact cases; we recently convicted 10 defendants who were members of a multinational criminal conspiracy, whose members exploited guest workers from the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica in 14 states for low-wage service industry jobs serving hotels, and other institutions. And we recently convicted two defendants who held Filipino victims for service jobs in elite country clubs in Florida. We've consistently brought cases involving the rights of exploited farm workers as well.
In addition to our prosecutions, we put paramount importance in strengthening our partnerships. We coordinate extensively with the Departments of Homeland Security, Labor, State, Health and Human Services, and increasingly with the EEOC. And I see many familiar faces who I've had the privilege of meeting in various coordination meetings, especially over the past year, and especially under Commissioner Ishimaru's leadership, and his engagement in the Senior Policy Operating Group. And these really important coordination efforts are making our response to human trafficking more streamlined and effective than ever.
The Attorney General himself, in late 2010 announced a human trafficking enhanced enforcement initiative to further streamline coordination among federal enforcement agencies, and federal prosecutors to further enhance our capacity to develop these significant human trafficking investigations and prosecutions, but we know there's far more to be done, and we intend to do it with the time-tested strategy of partnerships.
I see I'm out of time. I'm just going to wrap-up briefly by commending the efforts of the EEOC to engage in these really important collaboration and coordination efforts. I've had the privilege of being in these meetings where we have discussed opportunities for cross-training one another at our human trafficking trainings for law enforcement, and where we've begun to discuss protocols for referring complaints to one another, and that system is already working. And we manage to refer complaints to EEOC and receive referrals of potential trafficking situations from EEOC.
EEOC is uniquely poised to serve as eyes and ears on the ground to detect signs of trafficking that could otherwise elude law enforcement, because civil investigations often uncover trafficking indicators, like confiscated documents, reductions in debt that's being discharged by the servitude, monitored or restricted communications. And trafficking victims are frequently reluctant to confide their victimization, which is a well-documented symptom of their victimization. And that means that these subtle trafficking indicators are often the first and best sign we have that we need to investigate further. So, our cross-training efforts are going to enable law enforcement to better alert EEOC for signs to look for as they proceed with civil investigations, and EEOC to alert us to low-wage industries where there are vulnerable populations that we should be investigating.
As the Attorney General has said, there's no more basic right than freedom from slavery; yet, in its modern form of trafficking, this cruel practice persists on an enormous and alarming scale. Combating the entrapment, at least, and exploitation of trafficking victims is one of the Justice Department's highest priorities. We're committed to fighting human trafficking in all its forms, and to bringing to justice traffickers who prey on the vulnerabilities of other human beings to exploit them against their will. We applaud and welcome the EEOC's increasing engagement and leadership on this issue, and we look forward to continuing to partner with the EEOC to make our shared fight against human trafficking more effective than ever. Our door is always open, and we're ready to support your efforts, and contribute whatever lessons learned the hard way to our shared efforts to take this collaboration and coordination to the next level.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you. And Ms. Axam, your statement, and all of the statements will be available in full on our website, as well. Thank you. Next, I'd like to ask Anna Park, Regional Attorney from the Los Angeles District Office of the EEOC.
MS. PARK: Good morning Chair Berrien, Commissioners Ishimaru, Feldblum, Barker, and Lipnic. It's a great honor to be here today.
As our previous panelist mentioned, victims of human trafficking can be men, women, children in all different industries, varying degrees of educational levels, ages, and skills. Unlike smugglers however, traffickers can gain legitimate visas to bring people in from around the world and force them to work, or provide sex against their will.
Temporary contracting agencies bring in workers through legitimate means under the auspices of luring them for work. However, victims are charged exorbitant fees that the workers can never pay. This fee is used to subjugate and exploit the workers forcing them to tolerate and endure intolerable situations.
What emerges is a picture unique to trafficking cases that do not exist in any others that we pursue. One such example was brought by our office in the case of EEOC v. Trans Bay Steel, which was on behalf of very high-skilled welders. We brought suit alleging that a class of 48 Thai workers contracted under the H-2B visas by Trans Bay and third-party agencies were held against their will, had their passports confiscated, movements restricted, and forced to work without pay in violation of Title VII, based upon national origin discrimination.
By way of background, Trans Bay Steel received a very large subcontract to provide services to retrofit the Bay Bridge in Northern California. Trans Bay contracted with agencies called Kota Manpower and Hi-Cap Enterprises to bring in these high-skilled welders from Thailand to meet the needs of the project.
While Kota and Hi-Cap brought in over 48 welders, only nine of them went to work for Trans Bay. The remaining welders were brought to Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, where they were forced to work without pay in Thai restaurants owned by these contracting companies, and forced to work other menial jobs. And in fact, these agencies ran ads in the Thai paper saying cheap labor, and had their pictures run in the Thai papers.
Their passports were confiscated, and threatened, kept in two very cramped apartments, deprived of electricity, water, and gas. Some of the workers were told if they try to leave the location where they're being forcibly held, that the police and immigration officials would be called to arrest them. Many of the claimants leveraged huge loans against their family homes paying this exorbitant interest just to come here. The actual threat and forced labor was through the agency, mainly Kota Manpower itself. However the sponsoring employer, Trans Bay Steel, was a joint employer, and thus liable for the acts of its agents.
The EEOC was able to reach a resolution with the employer, Trans Bay Steel. The company still needed workers to meet their obligations under the contract. And in return, the workers needed comprehensive relief. In the end, Trans Bay Steel wanted to do what was right for the workers, and in forging a resolution that ended up being a win-win for everyone.
We're fortunate today to have two individuals from the case. First is Mr. Sathaporn Pornsrisirisak, who was a victim in the Trans Bay case. He will talk to you about the circumstances which he was subjected to, and what it was like to be a victim of trafficking.
We're also fortunate to have with us, Ms. Panida Rzonca from the Thai Community Development Center, who graciously agreed also to serve as our translator today. She is here on behalf of the Executive Director of the Thai Community Development Center, Chanchanit Martorell, who couldn't be here today. She will speak about their important involvement, and their longstanding track record in fighting human trafficking.
The resolution we were able to reach with Trans Bay Steel covered a three-year consent decree and recovered over $1 million in totally monetary relief. Some of the highlights involved guaranteed work with strict guidelines on pay for the 48 welders for the project. And to the extent they were not able to work on that project, the company committed to placing them with other agencies. And you'll hear from Mr. Pornsrisirisak that the company came through with that promise.
They also provided separate from that monetary relief, they agreed even to hire some of the workers as supervisors. They trained the welders to provide them with special certification as welders. They paid for tuition and books so that they can get continued education at a local college. They offered sponsorship for visas for those that needed it. They even paid for relocation costs, and housing for the claimants, and a rental stipend for the families for a period of time.
And just to make clear that for victims of trafficking, comprehensive relief is required. They even provided for a Thai liaison to help them with their Social Services that was required by not only the claimants but their families in this transitional period. In addition to that, they agreed to our traditional training, record keeping, and policy posting, as required under our usual decrees.
Combating human trafficking requires a very comprehensive approach. By partnering and coordinating with not only other law enforcement agencies, but also the non-profits, like those of Thai Community Center. We also partnered with the Legal Aid Foundation Los Angeles, who provided immigration services for the welders. So, it really does take a whole village to bring one of these cases, because in the end, these victims cannot be reached by the traditional means that we're all used to in the type of outreach that we do.
In conclusion, one should not have to give up the basic freedom just to work in this country. We, as the Commission, at a minimum, exist to insure that basic right. And as the workforce becomes more globalized, our role remains ever increasingly more important, to help those that cannot speak for themselves.
In that regard, I would like to now introduce Mr. Sathaporn Pornsrisirisak, who is one of the welders in our case. And Panida will be translating as we go.
MS. RZONCA: Thank you.
MR. PORNSRISIRISAK (Through translator): My name is Sathaporn Pornsrisirisak. I lived in Bangkok, Thailand. I looked for a job in the United States of America, because I wanted a better life for my family. I could make more money than if I stayed in Thailand.
After I decided to go to America, I applied to four or five work agencies that send people to America to work. In 2001, I met a recruitment agent from Kota Manpower. I was told that there were jobs in America through Kota. She told me that the openings were for welders. I believed that I could do the job because I had 10 years of experience as a welder before, so I filled out an application.
A short time later, Kota Manpower called me to tell me that it would cost 500,000 baht to come to America and work. They also told me that I needed to pay 300,000 baht in cash to start the process. Kota Manpower told me that the fee included expenses for obtaining a visa to enter the United States, and housing, and food expenses for during the time that I worked in America. The fee was very high, so my family had to get a loan, and use our homes and land as collateral.
I was one of the 49 workers who were brought into the United States of America by Kota Manpower. Mr. Yu Tek Kim, a Korean job placement person with Kota, picked all 49 Thai men up from the airport. We stayed in a hotel for a few days before he sent 27 of us to Long Beach, and the rest to Los Angeles, California.
According to the work contract, we were to work as welders; however, when we arrived in America, we were not offered the welding job as stated in the contract.
CHAIR BERRIEN: We can take a brief recess. Okay. We're going to break for 10 minutes.
MR. PORNSRISIRISAK: All right.
CHAIR BERRIEN: No problem. We're going to break for 10 minutes, and resume. Thank you.
(Whereupon, the proceedings went off the record at 10:44:03 a.m., and went back on the record at 10:46:45 a.m.)
CHAIR BERRIEN: We'll call the meeting back to order. If we could resume with Mr. Pornsrisirisak's testimony, please, and Ms. Rzonca may be reading.
MS. RZONCA: Mr. Pornsrisirisak asked me to read a few segments of his statement.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Of course.
MS. RZONCA: And he will resume afterwards.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Of course.
MR. PORNSRISIRISAK (Through Translator): We were forced to work in a restaurant in Long Beach and Los Angeles, instead. I was sent to Long Beach to work. We started off with fixing everything up until the restaurant could be opened. We painted, installed lighting, did construction for the new restaurant. We were under the supervision of Mr. Kim. Once the restaurant opened for business, I became an employee there. I worked as a waiter, and others did the same, or worked as dishwashers or cooks. Everyone was from the same group that Kota Manpower brought over from Thailand.
The other workers and I had to live in a house where the living conditions were terrible. There was no electricity or gas. We were not able to go anywhere because our passports were taken away. Aside from that, we had to earn money to pay for the 500,000 baht debt we owed for the recruitment fee. The other workers and I had to work 10-hours a day. After working there for three months from December 2002 to early March 2003, we each received only $200 for our work while we still owed fees and interest on the job placement commission.
We could clearly see that Mr. Kim did not plan to have us work at Trans Bay in accordance with the work contract, which was for the $19 per hour job as a welder. As long as we still had to pay the high interest rate and debts, we were not able to withstand this living condition.
Around March, 2003, a Thai person named Noi came to the Long Beach restaurant called Kun Thai Hut to eat. A few of us had talked to other Thai people who frequented the restaurant about our circumstances. They helped us by bringing us extra food to eat, but that was it. But Noi helped us by getting in touch with the Thai Community Development Center. Because of these terrible conditions, 15 of us decided to escape.
The night before we fled in March 2003, I called Noi and asked him to come to our restaurant at 9 a.m. when others would have left for the restaurant. Others were too scared to leave. I later met two men who had escaped from the Los Angeles restaurant, who later joined us. Some of them fled to a Thai temple to seek refuge.
Thai CDC contacted numerous attorneys and legal organizations to see if someone could assist us; then the EEOC got involved. The EEOC helped us with a big part of the T visa process. The EEOC also helped us with regard to Trans Bay Steel.
Trans Bay kept denying that it had any knowledge of what was being done with Thai workers brought here by Kota Manpower. The EEOC were able to pull Trans Bay in to say that it was also responsible for what happened to us. The EEOC also was successful in getting Trans Bay to provide us monetary compensation, assist us with housing, pay for transportation costs for moving from Los Angeles, assisted in securing legal status for us, provide us with educational opportunities, and get us jobs.
I got a job with Trans Bay Steel, because the EEOC stepped in. Thirteen out of the fifteen employees from the Long Beach restaurant got jobs with Trans Bay. About nine workers from the Los Angeles restaurant also got jobs with Trans Bay.
I worked for Trans Bay for two years. The work with Trans Bay ended in December 2007. Trans Bay recommended us to another company, and I worked there in San Francisco as a welder for six months and at other steel companies since then.
I finally got my T visa in 2005. It was approximately three to four years from when we first arrived in America. The EEOC also provided us with a chance to reunite with my warm and loving family once again. My wife and daughter were able to come to the United States in 2006. My wife currently works at two Thai restaurants in Napa and American Canyon. My daughter is 13-years old. She attends middle school in Napa. She's a good student, and she speaks very good English.
Until today, we have won and found a better life. After the long fight, I stand here today with pride and joy at the outcome. The most important things for us today that even money cannot compensate are the freedom, righteousness, and family. Even though I was exposed to the worst in America, but at the same time I could also see the best that this country has to offer. For example, the law that brought justice for the residents who were less fortunate, and were being taken advantage of. And I never dreamed that this type of justice would exist in society.
As a representative of the workers, I am thankful for the procedures of this country, and all the people that helped us for returning our pride, and lives back to us once again. Thank you to Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, Thai Community Development Center, and to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I would like all of them to know that you have given us a new life; a gift which is invaluable to us. Please continue this great duty forever. Thank you very much.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Pornsrisirisak. And I would like to turn now to Panida Rzonca from the Thai Community Development Center.
MS. RZONCA: Thank you. I worked with Thai Community Development Center since 2007 on legal issues and direct service. I'm here today to testify on behalf of Chanchanit Martorell, our Executive Director, who could not be here today. And I'd like to tell you what's happening on the front lines of the struggle against human trafficking through this story of success, and partnership with the EEOC through Anna Park. And I'd also like to tell you about the urgency in cuts in anti-trafficking direct services funding, and we use this for victims to come forward at a time when over 600 Thai workers are coming forward to work with authorities against labor traffickers.
To give you some background about us, I want to share the words of my Director. Thai CDC spawns an anti-trafficking movement and helped found the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, leading to the enactment of the landmark federal legislation in 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
We worked on the first case of modern day slavery in 1995, the famed El Mante, California Thai sweatshop slavery case, in which we mobilized other civil immigrants and workers' rights organizations to demand justice for workers.
I want to focus on the success of our partnership with EEOC in the Trans Bay case, as a model for future work. The settlement reached by EEOC enabled us to resettle Thai workers, some who are continuing their vocational education in California; and these people are the beacons of hope, the future citizens, part of the diverse fabric of our nation. I will now read from my Director's statement recalling the Thai Welders case.
On December 18th, 2002, Thai Community Development Center received a call from a man who had called in search of shelter. We arranged for shelter at the Thai Temple of Los Angeles, and went to pick him up. He asked to be taken to pick up his belongings. After a few minutes, he came running out with five or six men chasing after him. He then jumped into the car, and told Thai CDC staff to step on it. He was then taken to the Thai Temple.
The following day, we went back to conduct an intake and learned about the direct circumstances surrounding the case, about how he entered the United States. He wasn't alone. After learning about the situation, I approached numerous federal agencies to help these Thai workers. However, I was told that this case would not be pursued, because it did not fit the proper conception of trafficking; that is, of women and children forced into sex slavery. But the Thai welders case represents the most recent trends of, one, a growing number of male victims; two, trafficking of not sex, but labor; and, three, legalized trafficking through our nation's guest worker program.
While the Department of Labor did eventually investigate the case, and awarded unpaid back wages for some of the Thai workers; it was not complete justice and relief. In the meantime, by 2003, all 48 other workers escaped from two different locations. These Thai workers shared a similar story of debt, deception, and threats.
Dissatisfied with the minimal redress and restitution the workers received, and the lack of criminal prosecution; Thai CDC, along with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, initiated an investigation with the EEOC on behalf of the workers. On July 23rd, 2004, together, we filed charges of discrimination based on national origin against Trans Bay Steel Corporation, and labor recruiters, Hi-Cap and Kota Manpower Company.
My Director, Chanchanit Martorell, continues with the specifics of our partnership with the EEOC. The precedent-setting partnership with EEOC was possible especially because of Regional Attorney Anna Park's ability to recognize a labor trafficking case. Her strong desire to pursue the Trans Bay Steel case to the fullest in order to achieve real justice for the victims, coupled with her vision to expand the EEOC's role; insured justice for the Thai workers by, one, obtaining their T visas; two, reaching a settlement of over $1 million for the workers. We thank and applaud her.
Her visionary leadership expands the EEOC's ability and role in pursuing trafficking cases as employment discrimination, and exploitation based on national origin in ways not previously pursued. Now with the EEOC, advocates like the Thai CDC, can utilize this new avenue to pursue civil rights in Labor and Justice through civil law. But there is still much work yet to be done.
The 1995 El Mante Thai slavery case was just the tip of the iceberg for human trafficking. Since that case, Thai CDC has worked on six more cases involving over 600 Thai victims in the arenas of domestic work, sexual exploitation, welding, and agriculture. The current Thai CDC case resulted in a DOJ indictment issued last September. It involves 1,100 Thai farm workers, and it made international headlines as the largest case of human trafficking in United States history.
Not every trafficking case has victims who feel empowered, or witnesses willing to testify, or material evidence. Not every trafficking case is met by a legal team willing and able to champion their cause in the court. Not every trafficking case captures the attention of the media. Our work, therefore, has not ended; it has only begun.
Let us forge a stronger, more powerful union to end modern day slavery for civil and human rights. It is the work we do on behalf of victims that often constitutes true social change work, because it is fighting trafficking and slavery that we challenge all the underlying cultural values which govern the relations between genders and social classes.
However, as mentioned since the start of my testimony, due to the federal budget deficit, funding for anti-trafficking and slavery is faced with elimination and cuts, even though human trafficking is growing at a pace that will quickly surpass drug trafficking. In fact, human trafficking and slavery have become the most profitable and second-largest criminal activity in the world, so let me take this opportunity today to also urge all of you to help us prevent any funding cuts to combating human trafficking, which transcends all industries, because it is our hope that we may all see the day when slavery is truly a thing of the past. Thank you.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you, Ms. Rzonca. And finally, on this panel we'll hear from Ana Vallejo. Ana Vallejo is with the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.
MS. VALLEJO: Thank you. Good morning. Madam Chair, Commissioners, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you on the subject of human trafficking in persons in the context of the agricultural industry, which, perhaps, represents the most extreme forms of abuse in an industry that is riddled with many other forms of labor abuses, such as sub-poverty wages, harsh working conditions, lack of benefits, and little or no worker protections.
While the extent of slavery has diminished and evolved during the course of history, the agricultural industry remains plagued by one of the most dehumanizing and insidious violations of human rights. I am a supervising attorney for Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center's LUCHA: A Woman's Legal Project.
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center is a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in 1996 to protect and promote the basic human rights of immigrants. Since 1997, LUCHA: A Woman's Legal Project has been dedicated to assisting victims of violent crimes, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking in persons, and their immigration process.
For the past eight years, I have been responsible for providing direct legal representation to foreign-born trafficked persons in South Florida throughout the investigation, and/or prosecution of their traffickers, and through their immigration-related matters.
In our experience in Florida, the majority of the cases of forced labor in the fields are immigrant and migrant farm workers from Mexico, Guatemala, and other Central American countries. Many of them are also of indigenous descent, and speak indigenous languages. Additionally, although a common misconception is that only undocumented immigrants are trafficked; in Florida we have seen cases involving U.S. citizens, mainly African American men, and temporary foreign-born workers who have also been held in involuntary servitude and forced labor conditions through the use of threats, confiscation of their passports, threats of deportation, and the actual use of violence, which includes beatings, shootings, and pistol whipping. We also are now seeing more and more cases where workers have been trafficked into the United States through the use and abuse of the H-2A and H-2B guest worker programs. These visas particularly lend themselves to abuse by employers and recruiters, because they authorize the worker to work only for one specific employer who petitions for them. Therefore, the employee is never free to leave the employer.
Oftentimes, recruiters in the home country, or in the country of origin, entice workers to come to the United States to work; and when in this country, change the conditions of employment. In many instances, some of the workers have mortgaged their houses, and incurred loans, or other significant debt in their home country, debt that becomes insurmountable to pay, and I think we've heard today over and over again that that is the case. It is the same in the area of the agricultural industry.
To give you a bigger understanding of how the cases were, I'd like to review some of the cases that we've seen in the past 15 years. The first case that we saw was a 1997 case of U.S. v. Flores, where an estimated 400 workers, mostly of indigenous Mexican and Guatemalan men and women harvesting vegetables, and in the citrus industry, were forced to work 10 to 12 hour days, six days per week for as little as $20 a week under the watch of armed guards. The case involved both foreign-born documented and undocumented workers who were recruited in Arizona, and then transported by force in Florida and South Carolina.
The immigrant workers who had visas had their documents taken away, and were held against their will. In addition, people who attempted to visit the employer's labor camps, such as priests, vendors, friends, and relatives were also threatened and physically harmed.
In the U.S. v. Cuello case in 1999, more than 30 pickers were held in two trailers in swamp lands west of Amocoli, a rural town in South Central Florida. In that case, the employer bought workers from a coyote for $1,000, a coyote is a term for a smuggler, and kept them under watch. And they were paid approximately $40 a week.
In the U.S. v. Tecum case in 2001, a young indigenous Guatemalan woman was forced to work in a tomato field, and at the home of the trafficker. In addition to being forced to work in the fields all day, she was repeatedly raped at night by her trafficker.
In the U.S. v. Ramos case in 2004, over 700 farm workers in the citrus industry in Florida and North Carolina were threatened with death if they tried to leave. Employers controlled every aspect of their workers’ lives. They controlled their housing, their work, their transportation to and from the groves, and owned the stores in the towns where they took the workers to purchase food. Additionally, traffickers pistol whipped and assaulted service drivers who gave farm workers rides trying to leave the area.
Finally, in 2008, in the U.S. v. Navarete case, one of the most recent cases involving Mexican and Guatemalan workers; some of indigenous descent, were beaten for being unwilling or unable to work, or when they attempted to leave their employers.
In addition to substandard living conditions, the traffickers held the workers in debt, and chained and locked the workers in box trucks as punishment for not following the trafficker's orders.
As you can see in the cases above, most of the cases in Florida come from a farm labor contractor model, whereby you have a farm laborer, a crew leader that acts as an intermediary between the grower and the worker. For a fee, the crew leader will recruit, transport, and supervise the farm worker. The crew leader offers employment, makes other representations regarding the terms of employment, transports workers to the farms, branches or processing plants, and oversees the work performed in the fields. Often the contractor not only contacts and moves the farm worker, but also controls housing, food, and other vital aspects of the workers’ everyday needs.
Moreover, many times the contractor or crew leader is the only link between the foreign-born worker and the outside community base because of the isolated locations in which the workers are, of the farms, also, and the differences in language and culture. As such, the contractor ends up being the banker, the landlord, the food supplier, the transporter, and the check cashier.
Unfortunately, the multiple layers of contracted labor make it difficult to impute sometimes criminal liability on the grower who benefits from the cheap labor. Sadly, many growers turn a blind eye to immigration status and the working conditions in their lands in order to obtain a workforce that is cheap to employ, and with little risk of being reported for violations of labor and employment rights.
The Commission is in a great position to guarantee that these rights are protected. While criminal liability may be difficult to impute, civil liability has a less stringent standard of proof. Moreover, while the Trafficking and Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent amendments in 2003, 2005, and 2008 were created to address the crime of human trafficking, these statutes have also provided a framework for civil actions either by individual trafficked persons, or by other governmental departments or agencies.
However, in order to be successful in prosecuting a case either in a criminal context, or in a civil context; workers, especially foreign-born workers, must feel safe from the threat of deportation. To this end, the TVPA has created several forms of immigration relief. We have heard about the T visa earlier today, but also the U visa is a visa that's available for victims of violent crimes. And there's other protections. We now have Continued Presence, which is a mechanism that allows trafficked persons to remain in the United States legally during the investigation and/or prosecution of the acts of trafficking, which is also available for victims who are seeking civil remedies in the United States.
By collaborating with BJA-funded task forces, and identifying the Anti-Trafficking, or Human Trafficking Units within the local police department, within the local, individual Department of Homeland Security units; you can now insure that victim witnesses in an ongoing case where the EEOC is involved, will be available to testify should it be necessary. By promptly seeking Continued Presence, will allow the victim access to social and medical services that trafficked persons might need. Most importantly, securing employment authorization, allows the worker the ability to obtain employment in an environment that is free of abuses and exploitation.
Moreover, the EEOC is also in a unique position to insure the long-term availability of foreign-born victims and witnesses, because it is one of the agencies recognized as a certifying agency for the purposes of the U visa, which will allow victims, witnesses in a federal investigation that appears to be involved in one or more of the criminal -- qualifying criminal activities, so although you might not be able to bring criminal prosecutions over, because you are qualified to investigate criminal activity; you can also sign these certifications.
In addition, collaboration with other law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations is critical. All of the cases that I mentioned above were able to be successful because of the partnering between local NGOs working with farm workers, such as the Coalition of Amocoli workers, Immigrant Rights organizations like Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, the local police department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice. And this is critical because the investigations involving migrant workers can be very complex. There usually are no fixed addresses that victims have. They require more door-to-door investigation. You can't rely only on employer records. Because of the schedule of interviews can be unpredictable, it involves sometimes evening and weekends. There's also a lot more possibility for retaliation against witnesses who attempt to collaborate, or attempts, also, to intimidate them in order to interfere with the investigations of employers. Therefore, protection for workers and other witnesses needs to be swiftly coordinated.
Finally, the Commission should insure that all of its employees who come in contact with trafficked persons receive specialized training developed and imparted by non-governmental organizations in partnership with law enforcement. For example, the Freedom Network Training Institute has developed such a training.
Thank you for your important work and continued support in this area. And on behalf of the hundreds of trafficked persons that my organization represents, thank you for the opportunity for allowing me to speak to you today.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you. And now we'll turn to questions and comments from the Commission. Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Thank you Madam Chair. And thank you to the panelists. I think hearing stories firsthand are probably the most powerful thing we do at these meetings. And Mr. Pornsrisirisak, your story, how difficult it was for you to come here as a skilled laborer, and then to be put in these conditions, is just so difficult, and difficult to hear. And thank you for coming to share your story with us, we're very appreciative.
And I guess as I'm sitting here listening to all of this, and being reminded of the El Mante case from the `90s that the Department of Justice prosecuted, the Criminal Section; and hearing, and knowing, I think, how difficult it is to bring these criminal cases, and how more often than not criminal cases won't be brought in a given case, because it's very difficult to make the case. And I know from my time at the Department of Justice, so often what I thought was a good case; the prosecutors would come back to me and say, "We can't bring it, because we -- it does not rise to that level, we cannot meet our burden," and, therefore, we couldn't go forward.
And I'm sitting here as I'm hearing all these various intersections thinking we, at the EEOC, have an important role to play. And that's why I was pleased to hear Hilary Axam talk about the increased coordination that's gone on between the Department of Justice and EEOC in referring cases, making sure that various time limits and statutes of limitations are recognized, dealt with, so both sides, both the criminal side, and the civil side can maintain their prerogatives to bring a case at the appropriate point in time. I think that's very important, so we don't lose on either side.
And as Anna was talking about her case, the difference between going after the intermediary, the personnel company versus going after the employer who sponsored the visas; gave you different targets to go after. And sometimes you can get jurisdiction over certain targets, and if they're a foreign recruitment company; you may not have jurisdiction here in the United States, but it points out, I guess, the complexity of all of these cases. And I would hope, just thinking out loud, that we can think, we at the EEOC can think more about how we can do a better job, especially dealing with migrant streams, and dealing with places where immigrants have moved to in recent years, where they might not have been before, where there's still this migrant labor that still goes up and down various parts of the country moving at various times; how we can do a better job in getting to these folks, to these communities to build up trust, so people will come forward. I think the role of the non-governmental organizations is vital, so they can provide the buffer, so they can provide and help us provide the language service, and build the trust. I think that comes over time. That has to be built up over the years. I know a cadre of people at the EEOC over time have done that, and it's not easy work. It's not quick work. It takes a lot of time to build this up. And I want to commend our people, including Anna Park, and Bill Tamayo in San Francisco, and Bob Canino down in Dallas who have taken the time to do this, to build up those relationships to make this work happen.
Obviously, more has to happen, and I'm hopeful, Madam Chair, coming out of this we can develop a more standardized protocol to expand this in its various forms to other parts of the country, because the various pieces that we've done at the EEOC have been very good pieces, and very effective pieces, as far as they go. And I am hopeful that we can expand this to other parts, especially in places where I think problems may be occurring, especially dealing with migrant streams, where we have not really touched over the years; and may prove to be fertile ground for going after serious, serious problems that may not come to light otherwise. And I think it was illustrated well by the panelists how difficult these issues are to uncover, and how difficult they are to go after, whether it's on a criminal basis, or whether it's on a civil basis; these are insidious and we should play a proper role in going after it.
I want to thank the panelists for their testimony.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you, Commissioner. Commissioner Barker?
COMMISSIONER BARKER: Thank you. First of all, I would like, also, to thank Mr. Pornsrisirisak for your testimony today, and for your willingness to relive all of this, which I know is very, very difficult. Thank you very much.
Also, Anna, my hat is off to you for all the work you did on this case. And I was really impressed by the incredible terms of settlement you got from this employer. I presume there was some reason why we didn't go after the truly bad actor that was Kota Manpower. Was there a technical problem with that?
MS. PARK: Yes, one of the characteristics of these cases is the -- usually, these placement agencies sort of form, and then they go away, so that was part of the problem here, as well. So, fortunately, we did have Trans Bay who was willing to enter into it, and do what was right. So, that's why we were able to reach the type of settlement that we did.
COMMISSIONER BARKER: And I think that this is a testament to the fact that there are employers out there who honestly, I assume this was the case, did not know what was -- what occurred to these people who were, for the most part, not their employees. But this company, it sounds like, happened to be linked with Manpower, and so we got jurisdiction over them, as you said, as a co-employer, but for the most part it sounds like the evil that was done was done to them by other employers. So, to me, it's amazing that you had an employer who, nonetheless, was willing to step up to the plate and basically, do penance for other employers and a contractor, just because they realized the wrong that had been done to these people. This is an incredible success story, and it's something that it sounds to me like this particular company, Trans Bay, is to be applauded for doing the right thing, doing more than the right thing.
But I had several questions. First of all, just, Ms. Rzonca, from the standpoint --getting a feel for the size of the indebtedness that Kota Manpower required, 500,000 baht, what's the equivalent in U.S. currency, and how does that translate into what's a value of that?
MS. RZONCA: Well, in U.S. dollars, I get that question a lot, but the currency has changed. The dollar actually got weaker now. But the usual recruitment fee is around $20-25,000, and for a Thai person who has a family who's generationally subsistence farmers, there's nowhere to get that money. They have to put their land down, and take out a loan, and be indebted.
COMMISSIONER BARKER: And I suppose there was no way, since Kota did not exist any more to reclaim any of the money that any of these people paid to Kota. Is that what happened?
MS. PARK: If we could, we would.
COMMISSIONER BARKER: I know. I know.
MS. PARK: But unfortunately, we're not able to.
COMMISSIONER BARKER: And the other thing, the other question I had was from the standpoint of prevention. Is there more that can be done to educate Thai immigrants, in particular, that we can be partnering with, or are we already --because it sounds like the Thai community, Thai immigrants, in particular, need to be a focus of our concern.
MS. RZONCA: Right. As we can see from the cases that I had named, Thais are disproportionately affected by human trafficking. And right now, we do work with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking to run a media campaign. In Los Angeles, there are many ethnic newspapers and TV stations, so we provide interviews and publish what to look for, signs of trafficking in Thai language; because the majority of the Thai population is monolingual, their children, and their families will speak English, but many of the people that are trapped into these situations only speak Thai, and only read Thai, and many times the workers are not allowed to read the Thai newspapers because they're kept in that kind of ignorance to keep them trapped in that position. So we are working on a media campaign. We would also, like to reach further, to partner with other organizations in the home country in Thailand, but a small organization like our's can only go so far.
COMMISSIONER BARKER: Absolutely. And my last question was for Ms. Axam. I wanted to ask --you said that there were 39 anti-trafficking task force that are spread throughout the country that Justice has created. I hope the EEOC is a partner in each of these 39 task forces. Do you know if that's the case?
MS. AXAM: I don't know the answer to that, because these are funded by the Department of Justice to local law enforcement agencies, who are the grantees. And it's an incredible effort to engage state and local authorities with the federal efforts. EEOC absolutely should be at the table on those, and should clearly be a task force best practice to always engage with the EEOC, as well as the state equivalent agency, as well as labor regulators. And we do technical training and assistance for those task forces from my unit, the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit; and that is definitely something that we can impart. The Bureau of Justice Assistance also just put an electronic operations guide on line to disseminate best practices, and that is certainly something that we can bring forward to the field to increase the engagement with EEOC and those task forces.
COMMISSIONER BARKER: We'll look to you to do that then. Thank you so much.
MS. AXAM: Consider it done.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you. Commissioner Feldblum?
COMMISSIONER FELDBLUM: Thank you. First of all, thank you so much, Mr. Pornsrisirisak, and I'm sure you've heard probably five different pronunciations of your name with the five of us. But I want to thank you for your testimony for many reasons, but one of which is that it really reinforces the need for prevention in the first place, because it doesn't matter about the victory in court. I mean, the victory in court is fantastic, or the victory in a settlement; but it will not undo the hurt from the beginning. And it's a statement to why we have to work on the prevention in the first place.
Obviously, once there is the harm being done, that's when we, as lawyers, utilize the laws we've got. So my question is actually to the three lawyers here. Ms. Axam -- I don’t know, are you also a lawyer?
MS. RZONCA: Almost, I'm taking the California Bar next month.
COMMISSIONER FELDBLUM: Oh, you go girl! Well, feel free to pontificate on the answer to that. So, Ms. Axam, you noted that more often we're referring cases to the EEOC, and more often we are getting cases from the EEOC, and you were glad to see that. My question is, when would you refer a case to the EEOC? What would be the components of that? And the same thing of when would the EEOC, or another sort of NGO group be referring cases to you? So what are the components, those variables? And in particular, I'm curious whether there are differences in terms of the underlying laws, in terms of remedies, caps, coverage? I mean, what are the elements here that are strategically affecting those decisions?
MS. AXAM: That's an excellent question, and I think should be one of the primary focuses as we go forward with cross-training in terms of what we should be looking for as screeners for our protocols.
First and foremost, as Commissioner Ishimaru referred to; the standard of proof is different in criminal versus civil proceedings, so the government to prosecute criminally has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. There are many investigations where we have a preponderance of the evidence, but not beyond a reasonable doubt, that we cannot ask victims to come testify in court only to have an acquittal result. We are bringing cases when we very much believe we can prove these cases beyond a reasonable doubt, despite all the challenges that are inherent in these cases, so that's one thing.
As Attorney Vallejo referred to, the standards of culpability are very different. Civil liability can be incurred without actual knowledge; knowledge can be imputed more easily for civil liability. Criminal knowledge is a higher threshold, and there's also criminal intent, not just negligence, recklessness. So, we get a different set of facts in terms of which parts of the scheme are culpable under the law on the civil side versus the criminal side. And there are some differences in definitions on civil versus criminal.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a very comprehensive law, has in Title 22 of the United States Code, definitions of victims of a severe form of trafficking for purposes of eligibility for immigration relief, and victim services. Those are framed and phrased slightly differently than the definitions under Title 18 of the Criminal Code of the Human Trafficking Federal Criminal Offense. So there are some situations where there might be civil remedies and not criminal remedies for reasons that have to do with the legal definitions, and not just the quantum of evidence, not to mention the procedural rules, confrontation clause, things like that. There are a lot of civil situations where someone could proceed in court where there might be a procedural bar criminally. So those are a lot of the differences.
Secondly, there's a lot of protections for forms of exploitation, abuse, discrimination, and mistreatment beyond trafficking, and there are remedies and protections available for the victims of those forms of mistreatment, and abuse. And I have to say, one of the greatest privileges of this challenging job that I have, that always energizes me to keep going is; being able to prove the traffickers wrong. They tell their victims that nobody will listen, nobody will believe you, and nobody will care, and you have nowhere to turn. And it's extremely gratifying to go into court and represent the United States, and prove that somebody listened, somebody believed, and somebody cared, and to have our law respond, and put the trafficker in jail, and set the victim free.
Now, when we can't do that criminally, I still find it extremely gratifying that another part of the United States Government is able to bring justice and give the victims a voice, and secure a remedy in court. So, in that sense, certainly from the victim's perspective, we are one United States. You try to explain oh, no, that's that other agency, we're just Justice, they're the Labor people. In their view, we are one United States Government, and if there is a legal remedy that a representative of our government was able to stand up in court and help the victim secure, whether in the form of immigration relief, whether in the form of monetary damages on the civil side, restitution on the criminal side; I think a remedy and justice done on any level is a victory for the values of our constitution, and our government. And I think it behooves us all to look big picture and say, is there some form of redress that some part of our government, that one of our partners can pursue. So I would very much look forward to training all of my law enforcement colleagues to look for forms of mistreatment, exploitation, and abuse that are not necessarily, criminally prosecutable as human trafficking, and make sure that those get into the hands of EEOC investigators. And likewise, look forward to engaging with EEOC on the ground around the country to look for those indicators of a possible human trafficking crime that law enforcement could develop into a criminal investigation or prosecution, because sometimes the traffickers have just crossed the line, where the need to punish and deter, and to publicly declare the conduct intolerable is so great that a criminal investigation is necessary, either alongside a civil proceeding, or possibly some instances where procedural challenges on the civil side preclude a civil remedy, and where we may be able to come up with a criminal prosecution to respond to a situation. So, I think we should use the best available tools in every single situation, and we can do that by working together.
MS. VALLEJO: I couldn't echo everything that Attorney Axam has said so eloquently. One of the considerations for our agency in determining whether to pursue civil remedies or not has been really listening to what the trafficked person wants, and whether they are willing or wanting to move forward with sometimes a very long and burdensome process of accessing our civil court remedies. So, one of the things that we try to do is, of course, inform our clients of what the process is, and take that into consideration.
Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity to collaborate with the EEOC, but we're looking very much forward to this opportunity of continued collaboration, not just on trafficking cases that are happening, but also in other forms of labor exploitation. And especially, because we can access also, remedies for the victim even though a prosecution might not be able to happen.
MS. PARK: To answer your first question, Commissioner, ideally any referral should happen concurrently instead of waiting for one action by one agency. As you know, our statute of limitations is pretty short, and I think we have missed out on some cases. So, I think coordination-wise, I echo what's been said here, that the referrals have to happen very quickly. That doesn't mean that we sort of wait for, let's say, criminal prosecution -- I think there's coordination that could be done to accommodate everyone's interest.
Secondly, as to the remedies, we bring sort of a unique aspect. I know Labor has been very active in human trafficking, but they seek back pay and for a limited period of time. We can seek back pay for extended period of time, compensatory, punitive damages. So, in a lot of respects, the relief that we bring is quite broad, as you can see from the Trans Bay case. We can sort of think outside the box and get relief beyond just sort of the pay.
But I really do believe in this cross-training. I think it's very important. And, also, to have at the table not -- Homeland Security, I think is a critical element, as well as FBI, as well, because they are on the ground, and to train them. I know in our jurisdiction, we have done some cross-training, but because of turnover issues; I think it's something that we need to do on an ongoing basis, not just sort of a one-shot deal, just to make that collaboration happen.
COMMISSIONER FELDBLUM: Thank you. And I know that answers went over time, so thank you, Madam Chair, for letting all the witnesses answer.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Commissioner Lipnic?
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: Thank you Madam Chair. And thank you to the entire panel, and in particular, Mr. Pornsrisirisak, did I get that right? Thank you so much for being here, and sharing your story with us. And I, particularly, was struck by your comment that you saw both the worst and the best of America, and you certainly are an example of the best of America by being here today.
I want to ask sort of all of the panel if you could comment on, and this is sort of picking up on my colleagues, all of their questions about the labor contracting issue. And, in particular, Ms. Vallejo, I've been on agriculture investigations in Florida. I think a lot of people in this country don't realize the degree to which labor contractors operate in this country, and how important they are to many industries, but it certainly presents issues that are incredibly complex, and have many downsides to them. So, I'd just like to ask each of you, and, Anna, as you pointed out in the case that you were involved with, we were not able to go after the labor contractor. So, maybe you could just comment, generally, sort of issues you see about labor contracting, and how it impacts, in particular, these situations. And I'll start with you.
MS. VALLEJO: Well, like I mentioned before, you have multiple layers sometimes of labor contractors, and so being able to recover any kind of significant portion of damages for the victim becomes very difficult when you're not able to impute the damage to the grower who's really the one benefitting from the cheap labor. And that's one of the biggest issues that we see, also makes it sometimes easier to have large numbers of people being forced into labor, like we see in the trafficking cases that we have now. We've had in Florida over thousands of people who have been freed, and it's been through this multiple layers, picking people up. People are recruited in a spot, then taken out into a field, then moved around, and people are sometimes not just isolated, but don't really know where in the state they are, what part of the state they are, in what state they are. When you ask them where can I find you, you drive down this block, et cetera, et cetera, so it makes it very, very difficult to not just identify victims, but also identify that chain of responsibility.
MS. RZONCA: Well, in my experience in interviewing many, many, many workers who came in through work visas, came into the United States through work visas; I found that once they've arrived, it's not just the isolation, but, in addition, also the lies that they're told, the lies. And they're told not to go outside the farm they work on, say it's an agriculture case, not to talk to any outsiders, this is against the company policy. If you break the policy, don't obey their rules, you'll be sent back to your home country. If you go outside, you don't have a passport. We won't take responsibility for you, so he'll be arrested. You see any law enforcement, they're going to arrest you and send you back to your home country. And with that is all of the emotional and psychological duress, because they have already paid these exorbitant recruitment fees, and are indebted, and still need to feed their families in their home country. So they're sending money back to feed their family, and trying to keep their homes; so if they're sent back, they'll have nothing left. They would have lost it all. And we even have a quote from one of these manpower companies saying that Thai workers, in particular, are easier, more vulnerable, and better workers because they won't escape, because say in the Latino community, there is other Latinos that are willing to reach out and help them, but with Thais it's very isolated. They're so very far from their home country.
MS. PARK: I want to include under the rubric of labor contractor, placement agencies. I think the notion of delegating out the duties of an employer is something that employers are trying to shield themselves from liability. And under our statute, Title VII, we believe it's a non-delegable duty, particularly in trafficking cases where they have -- the employers actually have to sign off in sponsoring individuals through the H-2B or A process. I think that argument sort of falls to the wayside. And they're working there at their facility, so particularly in our jurisdiction; we do a lot of litigation where we have placement agencies, labor contractors. There needs to be a lot more regulation, I believe. We must also go after the employers themselves, because they are being used in a way to shield -- it's always the first argument, it's a way to prevent -- we're not the employers, and it's a raging debate all throughout the litigation. But it's very clear that there's a lot of control by these contractors.
We do a lot of agriculture cases, not just sort of gender cases, but they're screening out older workers, people with disabilities. They wait up in line, say I don't want you, I don't want you, I don't want you. And rarely can we reach those people. So, we have a lot of work to do. I mean, the outreach component, Commissioner Barker, you mentioned, is critical. This case came to us because we were doing co-training with CAST, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, and I struck up a conversation with a case worker who was fed up that they couldn't get any relief for the individuals. They're providing social services, so it's very important to be there and present, but going back to labor contract -- it's a huge problem. And I think there needs to be much more stricter guidelines around what they do, how they bring them in, and what fees they're charging. This is outrageous. It was $20,000 in the case when it was originally brought.
MS. AXAM: From the perspective of the Department of Justice, as well, we actually have recently convicted a number of labor contractors, and we have a number more under indictment for criminal liability for their abuses of the workers they're bringing in. This goes by a number of names. They can be referred to as labor contractors, labor brokers, labor leasers, placement agencies, labor recruiters. You can see the legitimate market purpose for that service if you're a grower, a manufacturer, "end-user" employer. It's an awful lot of legwork to find a readily available labor force when you want them, and to do it in an economically feasible way, because you don't necessarily, want to have a lot of workers on your payroll when the crops aren't ready to be picked, and you don't want to have them on your payroll the minute the crops have finished being picked. So, you have every interest in going through a service that will have workers sort of available on demand for your labor needs. But there are a lot of criminally unscrupulous labor leasers and brokers out there who exploit our guest worker visa systems, and abuse those systems, abuse the legal process. They exploit, in particular, the non-portability of those visas that tie them to a particular employer. The labor leaser will violate the terms of those visas, and send the workers wherever the labor leaser sees as profitable and convenient for the labor broker, labor leaser, labor contractor. Then they know that that worker is out of status, because they have been sent to work at the direction of that labor contractor somewhere that their visa does not permit. Then the labor contractor uses that for leverage, and that's an abuse of the legal process when an individual leverages a threat of using the legal process for their own purposes. And we used to get this defense in our cases, both from people who exploited undocumented workers, and from defendants who exploited guest workers saying hey, I'm just stating the law, if you're out of status on your visa, you can be deported, or I'm just stating the law, if you don't have documents, you can be deported. And we're very pleased that after vigorously litigating this issue, not only is it written right into the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, that abuse of the legal process is a prohibited form of coercion, but also the courts have begun to recognize, and there's a reported case in the 7th Circuit, Calimlum from a domestic servitude case, where the court just very clearly rejected that argument, and said the law does not exist for private individuals to manipulate it to their advantage. If somebody is out of status, you can report them to authorities, or not, but you can't threaten to report them to extort their labor, and that's what we're seeing. We're seeing these labor brokers, labor contractors extorting individuals, and holding them in compelled service. And it is a big problem, and there's a range of situations with regards to the grower client, or manufacturer client, and market for the labor, and what they know, and what they don't know. But what's happening is these labor contractors are exploiting the system to maintain a cheap, compliant, readily available labor pool so that they can meet the needs of -- the labor demands of the market with no cost for holding the workers just around, and waiting in the service of that contractor without pay at the convenience of the labor contractor. And it is a big problem, and we're going to continue to investigate those allegations in our criminal investigations and prosecutions.
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: Thank you all very much.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you. Ms. Vallejo, you mentioned a case in Orlando that involved African American men, and I believe you said you thought, or they were citizens of the U.S. I just wondered, we've heard a lot about some of the ways that the immigration system, and types of visas can be a part of this web of holding people in forced labor situations, but when you remove that, and are dealing with either citizens of the U.S., or people who would not be vulnerable in the same ways, either by immigration status or language, what are the ways that people become ensnared in forced labor?
MS. VALLEJO: In some of those cases, it was African American homeless men, they had addiction problems, they were being paid with crack cocaine, and that crack cocaine debt continued to be added to their -- it was extracted from their pay, pretty much. So, they continued to incur higher debt for consuming drugs, so they were being paid by illegal substances. Their addictions were growing, and so that was one of the biggest vulnerabilities.
I didn't mention the case in Orlando. I think that was Ambassador CDeBACA, but there was two cases, U.S. v. Lee case, and the U.S. v. Evans case that involved African American men who were being recruited and exploited in fields in Florida. And in both instances, the vulnerability was the drug addiction.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you. And I will ask really all of the panel if you can say to us, I think Commissioner Ishimaru framed it in this way, and others have picked up on this theme. Obviously, you've talked about some very important cases, and some very compelling work, and how you are using the law to address really tragic and horrific situations around the country. I think one of the challenges for the agency is how do we address more systemically this issue? And we've heard, for example, this case that you brought in Trans Bay is not isolated on the docket of the EEOC. In some ways, the facts are reminiscent of the Pickle case which involved these Indian workers recruited under similar circumstances, and subjected to similar conditions; and, yet, there also seems to be a gulf between the good work that is happening in those cases, and a Commission-wide, or perhaps agency-wide awareness, or greater awareness of how to identify, how to investigate, and how to address these issues. So, really welcome your perspectives on how we move engagement of the Commission, work force in addressing this issue.
MS. PARK: Absolutely. I think the biggest issue will be training on how to identify what are the -- I think there is a common theme on trafficking cases, and the sort of nuts and bolts training of our staff I think would be beneficial. I am sure there are cases across the country, and we're just not seeing the signs of it, as you hear about South Dakota cases, and they're all over.
The other thing I think is that it takes a tremendous amount of resources to these cases, and if it wasn't for the partnering with Thai CDC, this case would never have happened. We did not have the language capacity, nor did we have the funds at the time to hire a translator from the outside, so that partnering was critical. But for those around the country where you don't have that ability to reach out to non-profits, I think it is a great -- that is a huge hindrance, separate from identification. Once you identify it, if you can't speak with them, or communicate, that remains a huge challenge. And the work force that they are bringing in is from all over the world.
Even within the Latino community, we have a case going on in our jurisdiction where you have dialects, finding a translator for those dialects, the Stecca dialect, or whatever it is that we're seeing, that's a huge problem and hindrance for our cases. So, if there's one thing I can ask is probably, and it's a broken record, I know, but more funds. But that is something that is a true barrier to these kinds of cases.
MS. RZONCA: Well, the first thing that came to my mind was that Thai Community Development Center is based in Los Angeles, and we're the only comprehensive Thai Community Development Agency in the U.S. I have filed claims with the EEOC nationwide, but the process is different from the east coast to the west coast. So, there are many cases that are falling through the cracks, because we're a very small organization, very small, and there's only two and a half people working on anti-human trafficking, and these are the people who would file the EEOC claims.
Now, on the east coast, I've received packages, and packages on further interviews needed, but we don't have the resources to do all the translation work, and call these people up because they are located on the east coast. They're not in Los Angeles, and they have worked in places, were employed on the east coast. So, if there could be a more streamlined way to report to the EEOC, I find that the west coast offices, it's been easier, because when we get the case, we'll just fill out a one-pager, and they'll send it back with a date stamp, so that's us reporting. But for the east coast, it's not complete, and then the statute of limitation runs, and then it just falls through the cracks, even though these people are still in need, still out there living in fear.
MS. VALLEJO: I would suggest, also, more protocols in terms of collaboration with other partners within the community. Again, for us, it would be -- it would have been impossible to work on some of the agricultural cases that we have worked on if we hadn't worked also in partners with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which is a farm worker based organization. Their help has been incredible in just being able not just to reach the workers and where they're at. Sometimes I get a call saying we want to interview your client tomorrow, and my client's address changes, and phone number changes from one day to the next. Being able to rely on the smaller organizations that have a very close tie with the community is important, because they can go ahead and help us in finding out where that person is, and helping out in coordination.
In addition, you mentioned the need for interpreters. Some people speak very specific, specific dialects, and it's very, very hard to find the expert person who can do the interpretation. It makes it a lot harder to provide adequate -- to be able to conduct an investigation, so more funding for interpreters would be also something that goes a long way in being able to systemically address some of the issues that we've mentioned today.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thanks very much to the entire panel for your time, and I join all of my fellow Commissioners in saying we appreciate not only your time, but particularly and specifically we appreciate your willingness, Mr. Pornsrisirisak, to share with us today. Obviously, it is difficult to do, and is a very important reminder to us that, ultimately, our work is engaged with people, and with the experiences that people have. And the work that Anna and others do around the country every day requires that kind of sensitivity, and we appreciate that you have all come here today to help us think about how the resources of this Commission can be used better, and more effectively to address this important issue. Thank you very much.
And we'll bring up the third panel. And as the third panel approaches, in the interest of time I will begin your introductions. Our final panel today consists of two witnesses, and, again, we thank you not only for traveling, and for coming to spend time with us, but also for your endurance today being with us for the full day, and we appreciate that.
We have two panelists in our third panel, which is entitled, "Strategies and Tips from Non-Governmental Organizations for Cases Involving Trafficking." First, we will be hearing from Daniel Werner, who is the Deputy Legal Director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, followed by Florrie Burke, who is Co-Chair of Freedom Network USA. Thank you both for being here, and we'll begin with Mr. Werner.
MR. WERNER: Madam Chair and Commissioners, I thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony. Working people in the United States are fortunate to have an EEOC that takes an aggressive stance combating employment discrimination. Immigrant workers, in particular, know they have strong advocates in the EEOC. All the more important now as anti-immigrant rhetoric becomes part of the mainstream lexicon and anti-immigrant legislation springs up across the United States.
As the EEOC continues to advocate for immigrant workers, it will come across human trafficking. Employment discrimination claims are, in fact, often a critical component of litigation on behalf of human trafficking survivors. As Ms. Vallejo testified, human trafficking thrives, in part, because traffickers present themselves as uniquely positioned cultural brokers between immigrant workers and unfamiliar and sometimes hostile communities in the U.S., a position of extraordinary power over the worker.
Similarly, the cultural, ethnic, and linguistic differentness of many trafficked workers can be converted into a weapon in traffickers arsenals used to coerce involuntary servitude. And traffickers use the resulting isolation to dissuade many trafficked people from seeking help.
The willingness of traffickers to exploit this differentness, and as Ms. Rzonca mentioned, even to target individuals of specific national origins based on stereotypes about who performs the best jobs, or is less likely or able to complain about exploitation, also places many human trafficking cases squarely within the purview of the EEOC.
Some labor trafficking cases also involve sexual exploitation. Trafficked women are often sexually assaulted or subjected to other severe sexual harassment. The EEOC has a wealth of experience investigating and litigating sexual harassment cases, generally, including experience with sexual harassment cases brought on behalf of immigrant women workers.
In fact, the EEOC can play a unique and critically important role in any human trafficking case it takes on, lending its expertise, its resources, and its influence as an agency of the federal government to assist extremely vulnerable workers.
Human trafficking civil litigation can be complex. There may be parallel immigration and criminal proceedings, and at times proceedings can reach into issues of bankruptcy, and judgment collection. The laws protecting human trafficking survivors either are young, or trafficking victim's attorneys have only recently starting using them in civil actions.
The survivors themselves, are usually victims of trauma, so it becomes incumbent on their advocates to do whatever possible to protect the victim's safety, and to prevent intimidating litigation tactics used by many traffickers' attorneys.
Still, none of this is new to the EEOC. The EEOC's cases sometimes parallel criminal investigations and prosecutions. The EEOC also constantly adjusts to the changing legal landscape in employment discrimination cases.
Charging parties in the EEOC's cases are often victims, similarly victims of trauma, a fact exploited by defense counsel. Therefore, human trafficking survivors derive great benefit from the expertise the EEOC brings to these cases.
Further, because of waning resources for non-profits bringing civil litigation, in particular, and the private bar's reluctance to take on such labor-intensive cases, the EEOC's role in human trafficking and other severe labor exploitation litigation becomes particularly important, as it may have the only attorneys available to advocate for exploited workers.
Where human trafficking survivors intervene as co-plaintiffs in litigation along with the EEOC, it is important that the Commission and its attorneys and staff be aware of the laws protecting the survivors, as well as procedural benefits and pitfalls that are unique to human trafficking litigation.
My written comments provide significant detail about some of these elements, far more than I can cover in my remarks before you today, as does the litigation guide I co-authored, the fourth edition of which will soon be released. For the remainder of my testimony, I will touch on a few critical issues. I will then conclude with some recommendations.
The victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, or TVPA, when it was enacted in 2000, became the most significant anti-involuntary servitude law since reconstruction. Importantly, the TVPA shifted government priorities to a victim-centered approach to addressing forced labor and sex trafficking, providing immigration relief, social services, and mandatory restitution to survivors. It also significantly expanded the reach of criminal prosecutors to move beyond the rigid approach to involuntary servitude the courts had previously followed.
With the TVPA, modern day slavery arising out of subtle psychological forms of coercion, rather than solely force or physical restraint, could be prosecuted. In the 2003 reauthorization of the TVPA, Congress added a right to sue to enforce the criminal provisions of the Act, giving trafficking survivors an important tool for empowerment, and financial and emotional recovery, and to combat demand. The 2003 reauthorization also included an automatic stay of the civil proceeding, which I discuss in detail in my written comments, and in the manual.
The 2008 reauthorization, among other things, defined the key terms "serious harm" and "abuse of legal process," to insure that courts understood the breadth of Congress' intent to combat more subtle forms of coercion. Therefore, as an example pertinent to the work of the EEOC, where the trafficking involves sexual exploitation, the trafficker may threaten to report the sexual exploitation to the victim's family in the victim's country of origin. This is a threat of reputational harm, now a component of what may constitute a violation of the forced labor statute.
The 2008 reauthorization also provided both criminal prosecutors and trafficking survivors bringing civil litigation an important mechanism to hold those benefitting from trafficking beyond just the traffickers, themselves, responsible and liable for the acts they knew, or should have known about. This, of course, can have a similar impact to and go hand-in-hand with the EEOC's use of Joint Employment Doctrine to expand the reach of employment discrimination statutes it enforces.
As I mentioned earlier, trafficking civil law suits often touch parallel criminal and immigration proceedings. These parallel proceedings, at times, complicate the claims for civil relief, but can also be an opportunity for civil litigants, including the EEOC. A criminal conviction or a guilty plea, for example, would have a collateral estoppel effect on a subsequent civil action based on the same underlying facts, particularly helpful where those facts bolster employment discrimination claims.
A parallel criminal action also gives the subsequent civil litigant access to materials obtained by the criminal investigators. The parallel immigration proceedings can provide the EEOC with an opportunity to offer the survivor the security she needs to participate in a civil action, and to start to normalize her life. New non-immigrant status provides victims of certain enumerated crimes, including crimes the EEOC may see in its cases, such as human trafficking, sexual assault, and extortion, with opportunity to receive work authorization and eventually to adjust to permanent residency.
Because traffickers so frequently use a victim's irregular immigration status to coerce her into continuing servitude, it is incumbent on the EEOC when it learns that a charging party is a victim of a U eligible crime to certify the victim for a U visa, which it is empowered to do under federal law.
The most common hurdle parallel immigration proceedings present in human trafficking survivor's cases surfaces in discovery. Almost without exception, traffickers' attorneys will seek copies of victim's T or U visa applications, along with other information about their current immigration status. These are bold-faced efforts to intimidate the survivor.
The EEOC has been more than willing to bring new retaliation charges against defendants who engage in litigation tactics designed to dissuade a charging party from participating in the action. In human trafficking cases, this becomes all the more important.
Because victims of trafficking and other forms of severe labor exploitation so desperately need the EEOC's expertise, resources, and weight, I ask that the EEOC not shy away from these cases. I therefore, conclude with basic recommendations to ready the EEOC for this advocacy. And some of these recommendations mirror recommendations already made by other witnesses today.
First, all the EEOC attorneys and staff should be trained on the rights and remedies for victims of human trafficking. Staff should also be trained to identify trafficking victims to insure that the needs of trafficking victims, including access to legal counsel, are adequately met by NGO community partners, and to make appropriate referrals for criminal prosecution. And on the criminal prosecution front, I was delighted to hear from Hilary Axam that there already is that collaboration happening.
Second, the EEOC's advocacy in human trafficking cases should remain victim-centered. The EEOC should hone internal protocols to protect trafficking victim's safety, and to avoid retraumatization.
Third, the EEOC should develop joint protocols with the U.S. DOJ Civil Rights Division to insure that trafficking survivors are provided the full extent of restitution available, and to encourage prosecutors to include any existing elements of discrimination into the agreements.
Fourth, the EEOC should certify victims of trafficking and other U visa qualifying crimes for U visas in any case where there is overlap between the qualifying crime and the discrimination claim. Related to this, the EEOC should work with USCIS to develop protocols insuring that the U visa certification process is seamless, fair, and efficient.
Fifth, the EEOC should continue to confront retaliation aggressively, including bringing retaliation claims against defendants who take adverse action against plaintiffs once litigation has begun.
Finally, the EEOC should use Joint Employment Principles to bring employment discrimination litigation against individuals and entities knowingly benefitting from trafficking, in addition to the traffickers, themselves.
In conclusion, I applaud the EEOC's efforts to become a critical player in the struggle against human trafficking, and other severe labor exploitation. As the EEOC takes on this role, I offer myself to assist the EEOC however possible, and wherever needed. I thank you for the honor of presenting to you today.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you, Mr. Werner, and Ms. Burke?
MS. BURKE: Madam Chair, Commissioners Ishimaru, Barker, Feldblum, and Lipnic, I thank you for the opportunity to speak today about cases of human trafficking, and especially about the persons who are victimized by this crime. And I am delighted, along with all the other witnesses today that the Commission is holding this meeting, and highlighting the complex issues of forced labor, trafficking, and worker exploitation.
My name is Florrie Burke, and I am not a lawyer. I am trained as a clinical psychologist, and I am currently the Co-Chair of the Freedom Network USA, which is a coalition of NGOs, legal and social service providers that formed in 2001 following the passage of the TVPA.
The mission of the Freedom Network and its training institute is to uphold and enforce the human rights principle that all human beings have the right to live free from forced labor, slavery, and servitude. No one should be subjected to torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, or punishment, and everyone has the right to freedom of movement.
When these principles are violated, we in the Freedom Network USA strive to insure that exploited trafficked and enslaved persons are freed, are able to enforce their legal and human rights, receive justice, and have access to appropriate services, and the opportunity to fight for change.
Our training institute has offered a rights-based training to about 10,000 law enforcement, legal and social service first responders, communities, faith-based organizations, and government entities since 2003. Our curriculum is based on direct experience with cases of trafficking.
The road to labor trafficking is long, often circuitous, and always fraught with danger and fear. And despite what traffickers think, their victims are not ignorant, they are not lazy, and they are not immune to pain and injustice. Around the world, men, women, boys, and girls are trafficked daily into situations of labor servitude, hardworking desperate individuals from dozens of countries, including our own.
I have worked with Chilean men enslaved as cattle herders, underage girls sexually exploited as bar girls, men and women working in factories, women held in slavery as domestic workers in the homes of diplomats, wealthy doctors, or business owners, agricultural workers in the fields, and nurses who are forced to work as recruiters. The list goes on, hotel workers, construction workers, seasonal carnival employees, church choirs, magazine sales people, brothel workers, nannies, and more.
Many were in this country on legal visas, others were undocumented. They were all mistreated, and exploited. There are both physical and emotional scars left by the situation, but even worse is the rampant theft of dignity, and personal confidence. The very tenets upon which the EEOC operates, fairness, and lack of discrimination are systematically stripped away from victims of this crime.
The individuals who cook and serve our food, do our laundry, process our poultry, take care of the cattle to be sold and consumed, look after our children, harvest our tomatoes, clean our homes and hotel rooms, and care for our sick and elderly; these are the people at risk for exploitation and slavery. Forced labor is linked to poverty and discrimination, since victims in many parts of the world belong to castes, to minorities, or indigenous groups that are marginalized, and stigmatized. And these individuals sometimes are uneducated, which greatly increases their vulnerability.
Not only are working and living conditions deplorable, but trafficked people are subjected to abuse, name calling, insults, assault, ridicule, humiliation. When I interview these survivors, it is that degradation resulting from the constant name calling based on their ethnicity, their race, their gender, their disability, and/or their nationality that stays with them the most, and causes them the greatest pain.
I ask you to think about Rosa, a young woman in her 20s, intelligent but not well educated. Rosa comes from Central America, had never before been out of her small town. And an acquaintance in the town introduced her to a handsome man who proceeded to romance her, and then offered her a job working in a restaurant in the United States. She felt this offer was an opportunity, and what followed is the all too common scenario, a treacherous trip across the border, a period of indoctrination, otherwise known as brutal physical and sexual assault, and finally, the arrival into the land of the free.
Rosa was put to work in a restaurant. She worked 16-hour days, and she was expected to entertain men after hours for pay. She received no money, no time off, no ability to leave.
You might be thinking a young, naive, uneducated woman who fell for the oldest promise in the world, romance and a good job. But consider then JP, Vivek, Jagdish, the educated, highly skilled engineers and welders from India who were brought in on visas to work in the Pickle Factory in Oklahoma. They too, believed in opportunity, and a chance for a better life. They too, were deceived, and they had to endure horrible conditions and broken promises.
What they have in common, Rosa, and others like her, and the Indian men, is the shared experience of personal shame, feelings of failure, and disillusionment in human beings. In my work as an expert witness, I hear firsthand accounts of the humiliation and shame that erodes one's opportunity to exercise personal agency. And my expertise has been to testify about the climate of fear, and the psychological coercion.
Women and men who have been victimized by greedy opportunistic individuals have been called names repeatedly, and told they are worthless. In the case of the cattle herders who had been subjected to harsh conditions, one said to me, "I felt terrible at the time, but it served me to see how bad people can be. They taught me what my rights are, and that it's not okay to treat people that way." Another said, "The bosses thought it was okay that we worked all the time, and they could treat us this way. When I think about the time on the ranch, something in my throat hurts me a lot."
From 2003 to 2006, I had the great honor of working as an expert witness in the EEOC v. John Pickle Company. Robert Canino, the current Regional Attorney in the District Office of Dallas, Texas successfully prosecuted this complex case, and he set the bar for detail, compassion, perseverance, and thoroughness. The number of victim witnesses, the language issues, the labor laws, the types of visas these men had been issued, and the circumstances of their situation made this case very unique. Mr. Canino was masterful in his ability to gain the trust of the workers, and get the full facts of the case.
I interviewed many of those men several times, and was struck by their sadness and their disillusionment as they described enduring insult, such as we employed 52 donkeys from India, and they'll do anything. They heard themselves referred to as dirty Indians. This was compounded by unsafe living and working conditions, inadequate food, and pay, and a host of other abuses. The EEOC took this case on when others wouldn't, and it stands today as a landmark case among human trafficking cases.
The International Labor Organization, the ILO, stresses that the responses to trafficking need to move beyond the present focus on commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls towards a more holistic approach that includes the broader labor dimensions of human trafficking. The exclusive focus that we're seeing on sex trafficking by programs, media, legislation, and law enforcement leads to serious problems and challenges. Those working in the informal labor sector are already invisible to many, and the focus on sex trafficking further marginalizes them and takes attention away from the pervasive nature of labor trafficking.
Focusing on just sex trafficking overlooks the frequent sexual assault of those trapped in forced labor, and it also ignores those women originally trafficked into sexualized labor industries, such as strip clubs, et cetera, before they were forced into prostitution. And despite the fact that TVPA defines this work as labor trafficking, most of the response to trafficking undertaken has failed to address the underlying factors that create the vulnerability to forced labor of men, women, and children.
Law enforcement and service providers are likely to pay less attention to outreach, investigation, and service provision for victims of labor trafficking if only attention is paid to sex trafficking.
In the interest of time, I've condensed my remarks, but in my written testimony I have included specific strategies for how to work with trafficked persons, and I have drawn the descriptions of victims today to provide a framework for those recommendations. And I've also provided extensive recommendations in resources, including links to service providers.
Paramount among the recommendations is the need, and we've heard it today over and over, for the EEOC to have comprehensive rights-based training for all your investigators, attorneys, and prosecutors. It is essential that people be familiar with and understand the stories of people who have been subjected to forced labor. The training needs to be comprehensive, and it needs to help explain how people are victimized, and what is the environment that allows this crime to occur. And I also recommend using the reach of the EEOC to educate others about the issues of discrimination that are often found in our cases.
In conclusion, I would say that human trafficking is not only an immigration issue, it is not only a criminal issue, it is not only a moral issue, or a women and children's issue, it is a human rights issue, and needs to be regarded as such. Trafficking victims are subjected to prejudice, foul language, personal insults, as well as the unhealthy and unsafe living conditions. The resulting loss of their emotional, spiritual, and physical health has long-term consequences on the well-being of these individuals, and of our society.
The efforts of the EEOC to address this crime and its many forms of discrimination can do much to restore the individual rights and personal dignity, and I, too, offer any support from the Freedom Network USA that we can offer in your efforts to go forward. Thank you.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you both very much. We'll begin with Commissioner Ishimaru.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: Great. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Werner, I want to commend you and the Southern Poverty Law Center for your work on this issue. I know Monica Ramirez, our old friend, has been instrumental in doing this work with you, as well as with Richard Cohen, and Morris Dees, the founder and Chief Trial Counsel of the Center. Again, congratulations on the work you've done.
A question for you. Is there something different about trafficking cases where we should try to seek some sort of different type of relief than the relief we would normally seek in a trafficking case -- in a typical case that the EEOC would bring? Is there some sort of special relief we should seek?
MR. WERNER: I've always argued that human trafficking generally falls kind of in the continuum of labor exploitation, obviously, at one extreme end of it. And therefore, the -- while the TVPA, for example, offers remedies to trafficking survivors; those remedies are limited to compensatory damages, so it seems like because of the severity of the labor exploitation that does occur in trafficking cases, it would be kind of an ideal opportunity to certainly push punitive damages to the full extent the law allows, certainly, to recognize the severe emotional distress that many trafficking survivors have experienced. And in that sense, emphasizing that these are different cases, these are some of the most severe cases that we might confront.
I would just give one caveat, which is that even though human trafficking cases do occupy an extreme end of this continuum, I don't think human trafficking cases uniquely occupy that end. And it's been a source of frustration for me, and I think for a lot of labor advocates that some cases that don't sort of fit within the technical definition of human trafficking, but in some ways are every bit as severe, get ignored by NGOs, by the government. And I would just encourage the EEOC also to not stop at trafficking, but to look more broadly at severe labor exploitation.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I guess, Ms. Burke, when I think about the pressures that our investigators are under just volume-wise, and we were talking before the hearing today about how difficult these cases are, and even though people may not be physically restrained, they just can't leave. They're under forms of mental bondage that are very, very difficult.
How do you convey -- how would you best convey to our investigators, the people who are on the front line of how you get beyond just the facts, ma'am? You know, obviously, there must be techniques, knowledge that you garnered over the years of how do you get this information out of people who would be reluctant to come forward in these circumstances?
MS. BURKE: Well, I think in my suggestions, I have tried to hit on that. It's very difficult to do in this manner. And I think that in a comprehensive training, cross-training like Hilary Axam mentioned, cross-training and cross-training with NGOs, which is critical for the piece you're talking about, really training investigators about the psychology of human trafficking, and the impact on the victims, and techniques for interviewing. And I've done these trainings for ICE investigators. It takes time and there are ways to engage people. You're not going to get the facts on the first interview, and I tell people that this is a person before you; this is not someone whose life is defined by this trafficking. It's a whole person. So there are special interviewing techniques.
The whole thing about the psychological coercion, it's so difficult, and that's why we fought so hard to get that language into the law in 2000, because we know that many of the cases, that is what is happening. There might not be any physical or sexual assault, but there is this psychological coercion. And when you first asked your question, I thought you were going to ask me how do I convince juries, and judges, and defense attorneys, and that's very difficult. But there are techniques that can be taught, and your investigators have great skills already. And it's really just building on those skills, and understanding what a person has been through, and what it has done to their psyche, and whether there's extreme trauma, or not, and how it impacts their ability to be interviewed, and ways of interviewing where you will get more information. So, I think that it's not a stretch; I think that people have basic skills, and we build on those.
COMMISSIONER ISHIMARU: I thank both of you for your testimony. Thank you, Madam Chair.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you. Commissioner Barker?
COMMISSIONER BARKER: And I want to echo Commissioner Ishimaru's appreciation to both of you. And, Mr. Werner, the work that you do with the Immigrant Justice Project, and also to Monica for the work she does with migrant farm workers. She's worked with us very closely, and she's been a real resource to us. We appreciate your letting us use her time and talents.
Ms. Burke, several questions for you. Going back to the 39 task forces that we heard about that Justice funds to local law enforcement, is that something -- are your NGOs connected, are you all a part of that? This is not something new to you?
MS. BURKE: Those task forces, as Hilary Axam said, are funded to local law enforcement, but it has to be a joint funding application between the local law enforcement and an NGO grantee of the Office for Victims of Crime. So there is always an NGO in the task force, and usually more than one, because one NGO can't handle all the volume, and all the services necessary for trafficked persons. So, very much the NGO community is part of those task forces.
COMMISSIONER BARKER: All right. And I would ask you, too, if you could make sure, get word out to your NGOs to make sure that the EEOC is included in every one of those task forces.
But I was real interested to hear about your training institute. Is that something that we take advantage of? Are we -- do you happen to have --
MS. BURKE: Shameless advertisement here.
COMMISSIONER BARKER: Okay. And I share both of your focus on the fact that we need to, because of our position in the community; we need to be focused not just on understanding what we enforce through Title VII, but what the law prohibits, generally, in the very broad definition under the TVPA. And I do think that's something that we need to -- I do think that we are getting better and better at sort of a new model within the EEOC on how we investigate these cases, and more and more our investigators are moving away from the model that the EEOC started with, which is, you're the person with the office in a city somewhere, and you sit there and wait for victims to come to you; and you ask them the information, you fill out a form, they sign it, and we move on, to having to get out and understanding that as investigator, part of your role is to get out in the community, make those connections with NGOs, and local consulates, and local law enforcement, and local, federal enforcing agencies, and work as a team to reach out and find those victims. And I think we're also getting better at responding to what we realize is a dramatically changing demographic in the United States, and understanding that when we hire investigators, when we hire intake personnel, that they need to be -- we need to have a representation of people who can speak the language of that community. So that's something that we think we need to get more and more on top of, but I think we are working toward. But, again, I applaud both of your efforts, and we have much learned from both of you. Thank you.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Commissioner Feldblum.
COMMISSIONER FELDBLUM: Thank you. You guys were great, both this panel, and the panel before, and the Ambassador is just really helpful. Madam Chair, I'm absolutely looking forward to seeing whatever structure is set up to do follow-through and follow-up, and I'm sure whatever the structure is, you and other folks will be contacted and engaged.
I do have to say, I get the sense of the sort of Whack-A-Mole thing, like every time you sort of get through these, there's just plenty more that will pop up, and the lure of money and greed is pretty amazing. So I wanted to shift the paradigm for a moment, and engage your thoughts, and go back to something that was said in I think the first panel, maybe the Ambassador, of shifting the norm as to what we expect a moral and fair work place to be, and to say government will only contract with moral and fair work places.
And so, sitting here, I had my list of five first, and it was because of this in terms of the spectrum, no involuntary servitude; two, payment of fair wages and appropriate hours; three, no sexual harassment; four, no discrimination on other legally protected categories; and five, provision of workplace flexibility.
Now, my question to you is this. Imagine that that was the statement of what we think is a moral workplace, and that the role of both government agencies and NGOs would be to work together to figure out how would you measure that. I’m not going to ask you to speak to number five, workplace flexibility. I don't expect you to –of but(a) do you think an idea like that is possible? And, two, do you think an idea like that is worthwhile?
MR. WERNER: Well, the -- that's, in a way -- and I think in a really gray way converting the Whack-A-Mole analogy to dropping a 20-ton boulder on all of the moles.
COMMISSIONER FELDBLUM: But in a voluntary way, right? I mean, if you want to get a contract with us, this is what you have to do. So, it's not quite a mandatory bomb, it's a very, very sweet carrot.
MR. WERNER: I completely agree. I mean, I think -- I wouldn't have much to add, other than to say that those are all fantastic ideas to suggest, and to try to implement.
If I could add a number six, it would be also to look at indebtedness of workers, and to insure that employers are personally responsible for any debts that their employees may have incurred abroad, particularly as typically happens. These astronomical amounts of money that immigrant workers have to pay to foreign labor brokers, to shift that burden to the employer where it really should be. But I, certainly, with respect to the five other points, I think those are fantastic.
MS. BURKE: Those are great points. Wouldn't it be a wonderful place for workers if those things held true. And I think there are some beginnings. I think Ambassador CDeBACA cited the California supply chain law. I think that's fabulous. I live in New York City, and the New York legislature recently passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which is an incredible step. There are other groups that are working on things like Codes of Conduct for airlines, for hotels to try to take a stand on this issue. The airlines is trying to cut down on sex tourism issues. So, getting people not only to be aware of what's going on, but to being held accountable. And I think it behooves all of us to buy responsibly, treat our employees responsibly, and all of that. And it is a sea change; it's a whole shift to get to your five points. But, certainly, if it's something that the government offers as a sweet carrot to people who want to do business with them, that's a big step.
COMMISSIONER FELDBLUM: Thank you.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Okay. And Commissioner Lipnic?
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: Thank you Madam Chair. And thanks to both of our witnesses for being here. Ms. Burke, in your testimony you talked about the focus on sex trafficking, and then you said that over the last 10 years, you thought the focus on that had failed to address the underlying factors that create the vulnerability to forced labor of countless men, women, and children. And I was wondering if you could expand on what those other underlying factors are.
MS. BURKE: Well, I think that because of the media, and the focus on sex trafficking, and certainly local law enforcement finds it easier to go after those cases than they do labor trafficking, because they go into brothels, et cetera, and that's why it's so important to have the EEOC, and Department of Labor, and Wage and Hour at the table for the task forces so that they can keep the labor issue alive.
I think that we need to look at those underlying factors of how do people get into this situation? What is the desperation that leads people to be deceived by these promises of legitimate work? Recognizing what's going on in the informal labor sector. I try to talk about it, and it's sort of a conversation stopper a lot, you know, talking about the work we do. People really don't want to discuss cheap labor. They don't want to discuss documentation or not of their nannies, and how they pay them. So I think that if we are just focusing on one part of human trafficking; we're overlooking such a huge, huge piece, because it is harder to see. It's right in front of us, you know, in all kinds of work sectors. I named a litany of places where we found cases that you don't think about when you see these things going on, going to a hotel and I don't know what their practices are always. So, it becomes even more invisible if we're not thinking about it, looking at the whole chain of events.
And I'm thinking of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has done a great service by going after the big companies. They use their workers, their former victims who are survivors as activists. And if we can get to that point with everyone that we're working with, that's a big step toward prevention. The question about what are we doing, because we are doing a lot of band-aids.
You know, I often said when I was running an NGO Anti-Trafficking Program, I wish we would be out of business. I don't want to keep taking care of people who are victimized, and we just stop it beforehand.
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: And I wonder if you could both comment on the -- in these situations, the reluctance of people -- certainly, there's the problem of people who cannot approach any kind of law enforcement authority. What about just overall, the reluctance of people about approaching any kind of law enforcement to begin with?
MS. BURKE: I think this is a major issue, and it's one of the problematic parts of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, particularly in the mind of NGOs; is that in order to pursue remedies, one has to cooperate with law enforcement. It's really hard for some people. They have been almost brainwashed, they have been told repeatedly that it is not safe to ask for help, it is not safe to go to law enforcement. Their families have been threatened, and we've seen those threats carried out, they're not idle.
It takes a lot to undo that, and to talk to people about the fact that in this situation, people are here to help you, and this is what can happen. That takes time, and I'm sorry to say that it's getting more difficult, because funding restrictions are tighter for NGOs in the services they provide. And one of the best services they provide is to stabilize victims, and to give them information so that they can go forward. On their own, they're not going to forward and tell their story. And the funding restrictions now have cut down on the time. A victim is expected to cooperate now within three weeks. That's a very short amount of time.
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: Within three weeks of what?
MS. BURKE: That they come to the attention of an NGO. You know, cases I've worked on, the very first case was a deaf Mexican peddling case in New York City. This was in 1997, and I worked with Ambassador CDeBACA on that case. They've been in this ring for 10 years. You know, to give someone three weeks in order to tell the facts of the case, it's unrealistic. And it's a financial thing.
MR. WERNER: I agree with everything Florrie said, as usual. I would add to that, as I alluded to in my remarks, I think the next sort of bastion of human trafficking is going to be the State of Arizona. And that will continue, that will spread to other states that are considering similar anti-immigrant legislation. And there are, certainly, currently little Arizonas in communities scattered throughout the United States. And we particularly see that a lot in the southeast. And what these laws do is they allow human traffickers to say to their trafficked workers, “I told you so.” And so long as immigrants, as law enforcement treats immigrants as criminals, which is certainly what the Arizona bill does, and what a lot of these other bills that are springing up do, immigrants will not approach local law enforcement. And local law enforcement is often the first place where they would otherwise turn. So, it creates a truly desperate and hopeless situation for not just trafficking survivors, but certainly victims of sexual assault, victims of other crimes, and they're just terrified to approach local law enforcement.
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: Thank you both.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you. Mr. Werner, the southeastern U.S. where you work has experienced not only a dramatic increase in its immigrant population, but also relatively recent increase in the last couple of decades, basically. And I wonder if you could speak a little about the challenges that that may be presenting, either in terms of availability of resources, and to what extent our state and local governments, and sources in the region equipped to address the needs of a new population.
MR. WERNER: I think that's an excellent question, and I -- there is a large kind of void in the southeast, a void in the southeast in terms of places where services just simply are not available to immigrants. And, unfortunately, as often happens, and this really ties in with my last answer; as communities have seen this surge in populations, there has been a backlash, so what we're not seeing much of at all, is a positive response designed to welcome immigrant populations, and to encourage them to access services, or make it safe for them to access services. In fact, quite the opposite is happening, which is communities from Charlotte, North Carolina to Albertville, Alabama are implementing very repressive enforcement regimes that really force immigrants out of any kinds of services that they might otherwise be able to achieve. And I hate to be so -- to respond with such a down note, but it really is -- right now I think immigrants in the southeast are confronting a real human rights crisis. And, sadly, I think it will become worse before it gets better.
COMMISSIONER BARKER: There's been a lot of testimony about cases in Florida today. And I hear you talk about North Carolina, which, frankly, I don't think of as being the southeast. But this is anecdotal evidence, and I've spent a lot of time in the southeast, and I think this is -- the testimony has been today, and the focus needs to stay on the fact that this is a nationwide problem. And I can give you any state, and I trust that people who testified today can give you any state, any state in the United States, and give you examples just like what you gave of areas that are not receptive as they should be to immigrants.
At the same time, I think we need to not lose sight of the fact that we also have tremendous work by wonderful communities who are very embracing of immigrants. So, let's not condemn any particular area, or condemn any particular -- focus on any particular failures. And let's identify the problem, but also let's please applaud the majority of locations who have been very embracing of immigrants.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Commissioner, I need to make sure, because our witness here is coming from the Southern Poverty Law Center, so the focus on the region is related to, and directly linked to the fact that that is his service area and the population that he works with. Throughout the day we have heard about a number of parts of the country, and I believe we've also had this question, or some version of this question in other context, including when Ambassador CDeBACA was here, certainly asked whether either geographically, or in terms of industry, as we think about how we target our resources, as we think about where there may be unmet needs. Those are factors that are relevant, so I believe that, certainly, the purpose of the question, I believe the spirit in which the answer was given, was to try to respond to the need for this Commission, which obviously cannot -- it's always resource challenged, to figure out how best to use the resources that we have working in partnership with NGOs, working in partnership with governments, working in partnership with all across the country who are concerned about the protection and enforcement of rights. And I believe that's the spirit in which it was offered, and I don't think there was anything improper either about the question, or the response.
MR. WERNER: And if I could just add, too. I mean, one very positive byproduct of what we've seen happening, and I should mention, I mean Hazleton, Pennsylvania was the first place to pass a similar sort of anti-immigrant law, so it certainly didn't originate in the south. But one very positive byproduct of what's been happening is that a lot of NGOs and kind of grassroots organizations that aren't even formalized as non-profits yet, are springing up around the south, and around the country to respond to this. And I think that these organizations are the potential partners of organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and of the EEOC as we continue to move to protect immigrant's rights.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you. And, Ms. Burke, if you could speak briefly to the question someone asked about, I believe Commissioner Barker actually asked earlier, about training, but I think more broadly one of our challenges is how do we make -- really focus resources towards prevention. And particularly, how is the information that you were able to obtain through your work on the Pickle case, but your work more broadly with the Freedom Network, something that we could incorporate more effectively in our outreach efforts, and in our prevention efforts, and communication?
MS. BURKE: Well I think today is a great start, and I think if we continue to have conversations -- because I see it as a two-way exchange. I don't think most NGOs, to be perfectly honest, know enough about what the EEOC does, and what you could do in terms of this area. So, we could learn from you, you could learn from us, and I think at the very beginning we need to be in a dialogue about that. I mean, just as our training institute has been working with other governmental agencies, we're working now with the Department of Education, and some others on getting our training out, sharing our experiences, so that you could broaden your understanding, and enhance your work.
I mean, I think just simply sitting down and starting this conversation about what we need to do, and how we can better inform each other, and use our resources, websites are a wonderful thing now, sharing information, training webinars. There are just all kinds of ways I think that the NGO community could benefit from knowing more about the EEOC. I mean, I know that in New York, our local network has been meeting with the EEOC, because we recognize -- I don't think there's anyone on the New York Task Force from there, but the NGO community recognized the need for that kind of collaboration. So, I really urge us to go forward and continue with these ideas that we've shared today. I think it's so important.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Thank you very much. I want to thank both of you on behalf of the Commission for your testimony, and for the time that you spent with us today.
On January 4th, President Obama issued a proclamation declaring this month National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and I believe the meeting that we've held today has elicited some very, very useful and important, and valuable information for the Commission to consider as it goes forward, and as it takes a closer look at how we can do more, and how we can be more effective in addressing the very serious issues that have been presented to us today.
I thank both of you, and all of our experts who joined us today, and to everyone who's present here today, my fellow Commissioners, the staff who are here in person or virtually, since we do have that option and opportunity for people to participate in this meeting. And believe that this is a very, very important step forward in terms of the Commission's work on this issue, and that we can and must capitalize fully on the lessons that we learned today, and the information we received, so we thank you.
Any other members of the Commission want to make any closing statements?
CHAIR BERRIEN: Well, I thank all of you, again, and if there is a motion to adjourn?
COMMISSIONER FELDBLUM: So moved.
CHAIR BERRIEN: Second?
COMMISSIONER LIPNIC: Seconded.
CHAIR BERRIEN: All in favor?
(Chorus of ayes.)
CHAIR BERRIEN: Opposed?
CHAIR BERRIEN: Ayes have it. We're adjourning for the day. Thank you all very much.
(Whereupon, the proceedings went off the record at 1:31 p.m.)