About the Author: Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca directs the U.S. Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Fifteen years ago today, 72 Thai women woke up to a brand new day and started piecing their lives back together. The day before, state and federal law enforcement had raided an apartment complex that looked like many others in the El Monte neighborhood in Los Angeles County, California. But hidden from public view, this complex had razor wire, boarded-up windows, and dozens of Thai women making garments under threat of force and deportation. The “El Monte sweatshop case” was a landmark incident that taught so many of us what had to happen in order to thwart modern-day slavery: multiple law enforcement jurisdictions, nongovernmental service providers, and community-based organizations working together to craft an emergency response, to investigate and prosecute the traffickers, and to assist the victims.
Today, the El Monte victims are survivors. They reunited with their families here in the United States, became citizens, and have been working hard to achieve the American dream they first envisioned, which for many is simply a quiet life with their family and freedom. Yet their case and their experience also improved federal legislation, state legislation, and the law enforcement and service provider efforts that comprise the U.S. government's approach to combating human trafficking. Their story continues to be told in many ways, including in a new play entitled “Fabric,” to make the public aware that slavery can happen anywhere. Fifteen years after these women's liberation, we acknowledge the anniversary, celebrate their successes, and thank them for being the impetus for a movement that will continue to lead to the identification of, and assistance for, many other victims whom they may never meet but have helped nonetheless.