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East County News Service

September 15, 2019 (San Diego) – The California State Legislature today passed on a 61-9 vote Assembly Bill 589 authored by state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) to make it illegal for an employer to confiscate a worker’s immigration documents as a way to force them into labor.

"This bill provides yet another tool to stop labor trafficking and helps protect tens of thousands of workers from a form of virtual slavery in California," Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. “Empowering workers to know their rights is always the best first step to ensuring their safety. Holding bad employers accountable for really bad behavior is an obvious next step. This bill does just that."

Labor traffickers frequently target legal U.S. immigrants by seizing their travel documents and forcing them into subhuman working conditions under the threat of deportation. AB 589 would make it a misdemeanor for someone to seize a worker’s immigration documents for the purpose of engaging in human trafficking. It also requires employers to post a Worker’s Bill of Rights in their workplace.

The Assemblywoman teamed up with San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan to draft AB 589. Labor trafficking is an enormous problem particularly relevant to San Diego because of its reliance on immigrant labor in its local industry.

“Nobody deserves to be treated as slave labor,” District Attorney Stephan said. “This bill makes it clear that it’s unlawful to control work visas, passports and immigration documents of workers. These are commonsense protections that will improve dignity and liberty for workers and provide clarity to employers.”

A San Diego State University study found that more than 30 percent of Spanish-speaking migrant workers interviewed had become labor trafficking victims. Further, it found that 49 percent of undocumented immigrant workers in San Diego County reported abusive labor practices in their place of work.

The bill passed both houses with bipartisan support, though East County Senator Brian Jones and Assemblyman Randy Voepel vote against it.  The Assembly vote was 65-9; the Senate vote was 30-9.  The measure was also opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce, which argued that its provisions duplicate existing state and federal prohibitions on labor trafficking and taking passports from immigrants.

AB 589 now heads to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk for a signature or veto.

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