Padilla Delivers Floor Speech Honoring the Advocacy of El Monte Thai Garment Workers
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) delivered a speech on the floor of the United States Senate to honor the courageous advocacy of the El Monte Thai Garment Workers, who were enslaved in California sweatshops in 1995. His speech comes after he and Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a Senate resolution to honor the group’s bravery and relentless efforts to protect other workers.
During his remarks, Padilla detailed the inhumane conditions the group of 72 Thai women and men faced while being held outside Los Angeles against their will and forced to work night and day, seven days a week. He commemorated their advocacy for migrant worker protections, including the landmark federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act, which created a new class of visas for victims of crimes like forced labor and trafficking and strengthened penalties for trafficking crimes. Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su — who took on their case as a Staff Attorney for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center — recently inducted the group into the Department of Labor’s “Hall of Honor.”
“When the 72 Thai nationals were finally freed, they owed nothing to this country,” said Senator Padilla. “And yet, they stood up and fought to protect others from going through the hell they endured. As each and every one of them has shown us, the best way to respond to the atrocities they’ve been through — the best way to honor them — is through action, including keeping up the fight to end worker exploitation.”
He concluded by calling for the confirmation of Su as Secretary of Labor and the passage of the Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change (FABRIC) Act, legislation he has cosponsored to combat the exploitation of and secure fair wages for garment workers.
Video of Padilla’s remarks can be found here.
Padilla’s remarks, as delivered, are available below:
There’s moments in history that shock our national conscience — news so heartbreaking that we will always remember where we were when we heard the news. One of those moments is the day that the El Monte Thai Garment Workers were found enslaved in California.
As recently as August 2nd, 1995, there were 72 Thai women and men who were discovered held against their will in El Monte, California — just outside of the city of Los Angeles. It was there — in a series apartments-turned-sweatshops, packed in-between sewing machines, forced to work 16-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, and hidden behind barbed wire fences with armed guards — that some of them believed help would never come. They were lured by recruiters with the promise of their own American Dream. 72 Thai women and men arrived in the United States only to find a nightmare.
When they were finally liberated by federal agents on that day, that nightmare wasn’t over. Instead, they were placed into holding cells, where they feared they’d have to be deported after the horrific experience.
It wasn’t until a 26-year-old staff attorney for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center by the name of Julie Su, among others, who took on their case for backpay and for dignity in this country that they had once only dreamt about.
When the 72 Thai nationals were finally, truly freed, they owed nothing to this country. And yet, they stood up. And they fought to protect others from going through the hell that they had endured.
Their advocacy led to meaningful protections in America, including the landmark federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act — which created a new class of visas for victims of crimes like forced labor and trafficking, and strengthened the penalties for trafficking crimes. Now just last week, now Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su — yes, the same Julie Su — had the opportunity to induct the El Monte Thai Garment Workers into the Department of Labor’s “Hall of Honor,” honoring the courage they’ve shown and the progress they’ve made to protect other workers.
I also had the privilege of getting to meet them in Washington last week, and I was proud to join Senators Duckworth and Feinstein in introducing a resolution to honor them by the U.S. Senate.
But as each and every one of them has shown us, the best way to respond to the atrocities that they went through — the best way to honor them — is through our action. By keeping up the fight to end human trafficking; By working to end wage theft that exploits far too many workers in the garment industry and passing the FABRIC Act; And by, in my opinion, finally confirming a champion for workers and worker rights like Julie Su to be Secretary of Labor.
Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.