RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
Human trafficking, the U.N. calls it a modern form of slavery. It's not something we associate with life here in the United States. And while more than half of trafficking victims are in Asia and the Pacific, it is happening in this country too. A new Global Slavery Index was released last month by the Walk Free Foundation, a group that fights human trafficking. And according to that report, the U.S. is home to roughly 60,000 people who live in slave-like conditions.
It's an issue that's come to the attention of Republican Representative Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Royce recently introduced legislation aimed at combating international human trafficking.
We reached out to Congressman Royce and I started by asking him what good another law against human trafficking will do since the practice is already illegal.
REPRESENTATIVE ED ROYCE: Let me give you an example. Right now, you have victims trafficked into the United States. They have no idea what their rights are. What the legislation that I've introduced would do is to give the workers the right up front to have information with a 1-800 number. The brokers, of course, should be registered, right? They should be registered with the Department of Labor, so it requires those foreign labor recruiters to register, to remain in good standing with the Department of Labor.
But for the first time they're going to have to tell that individual: here are your rights; here is a job that I'm actually signing you up for because there's often a bait and switch - in other words, they think they're going to work in a hotel they end up working in a strip club, right? So these are some of the changes in the law that will make it easy to enforce in the United States. As a prosecutor told me, he needs those changes in order to bring prosecution against some of these companies.
MARTIN: Where is the beginning of all of this?
ROYCE: A lot of it originates with very good sales pitches overseas. For example, in the Philippines, where we had one witness at our hearing, who explained how she was told that she would have a good job when she came to the United States. Angela ended up with the job very different from the one that was represented to her, one where she works seven days a week; one where they told her after the fact you now owe us $10,000, this is the interest rate and it will take you 10 years to work this off; and never given any information about her rights.
MARTIN: Do you have any sense of who these people are of the people who end up being exploited in this way? Are they mostly women? Are they children?
ROYCE: There are two types. One, is under aged girls who are being trafficked for the purpose of sexual abuse; average age 13 being recruited to this in Southern California today, average age 12 in Orange County. The other type are those were trafficked in labor trafficking cases where they have no rights, and are told that at the end of 10 years they will finally have paid off the debt bondage, that they weren't even told about whether originally brought to the United States.
MARTIN: Why is this issue important to you? Why is this something you wanted to bring up?
ROYCE: Not too long ago, I remember the case of a nine-year-old girl from Egypt who was forced to work as domestic servant, so-called, for an Irvine family. But when you look at the type of work and what she was put through, it was slavery. And it was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's office.
So I think there's ample evidence here that this problem is deep enough and so destructive to these young lives that all of us should lend a hand, and first try to repair the lives of those who've been injured. But second, get deterrence out there. Get the laws in place and get them in force that will prevent this kind of thing from continuing to happen.
MARTIN: Ed Royce is a Republican congressman from California. Thank you so much for talking with us, Congressman.
ROYCE: Thank you, Rachel.
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