El Monte, CA—Representatives from Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) stood with elected officials and community leaders and former slaves in front of El Monte City Hall to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the landmark case that freed seventy-two Thai nationals from captivity in a makeshift garment factory in El Monte.
“These past twenty years have seen several important milestones mark the lives of the El Monte workers who were freed on that historic day as they have sought to reclaim their freedom and pursue their own American dream. However, twenty years after El Monte, it seems that the fight against slavery, in many ways, has only just started. We have seen many more ‘El Montes’ since El Monte and the problem of modern-day slavery in America does not appear to be slowing down,” stated Chancee Martorell, Executive Director of the Thai CDC
Andre Quintero, Mayor of El Monte, welcomed the Thai CDC, “I am honored to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the freeing of more than 70 Thai garment workers in El Monte. They remind us that we must be vigilant to protect all workers and fight for justice for workers throughout the world who are abused and mistreated.”
Lilia Garcia, Executive Director Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund and Anti-Wage Theft Coalition said, “Today we acknowledge a horrifying reality that exploitation is thriving in California, as thousands of immigrant workers continue to be mentally enslaved by predatory employers like those in the Thai El Monte garment slave worker case. But it is brilliantly overshadowed by the resilient spirit of these workers to seek out hope where none appeared to live, to pursue faith when coercion dominated, to never concede that evil will prevail.”
Speakers also included Rotchana Sussman, a victim of the slavery case as well as Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and Lawrence Shih from Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis’ Office.
On August 2nd, 1995, the Thai CDC, along with state and federal agencies, helped liberate Thai nationals from the first case of modern day slavery in the United States. Seventy-two Thai nationals fell victim to what would later be known as human trafficking. In the summer of 1995, no one had heard of human trafficking and modern day slavery, let alone knew how to combat the crime and assist its victims. Thru the efforts of Thai CDC, the civil, immigrant and workers’ rights organizations that Thai CDC brought together, and key players within various state and federal agencies, it gave the nation’s first modern day slavery victims the emergency relief and resettlement assistance they needed while grappling with a system of laws and procedures that weren’t designed to tackle what has become one of the largest and growing illegal industries in the world.
Thai CDC went on to pursue justice for the workers bringing them redress and restitution. The case spawned an anti-trafficking movement that led to the founding of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking in 1998 and the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) by the United States Congress in 2000.
Since the discovery of the El Monte Case, Thai nationals have been a primary target of traffickers resulting in Thai CDC’s involvement in not only the first modern-day slavery case but other precedent setting cases in US history: the first case prosecuted on “psychological coercion,” the case to receive the first T visa, the first male labor trafficking case, the first case of winning justice through civil means, the first cases of trafficking through legal means, and the largest human trafficking case.
To honor twenty years of work combatting human trafficking and the El Monte Thai garment workers’ spirit of human resiliency, Thai CDC will reflect on the past to plan for the future by commemorating this historic event through a month long program that includes:
• An Anti-Trafficking Symposium at the Museum of Tolerance
• A Museum of Tolerance exhibit of quilts made by Thai trafficking survivors
• A “radio play” presentation of the play, “Fabric” at the Pasadena Playhouse
• A benefit concert by Thai pop sensation Boyd-Nop
Read about the press conference at: