Two Filipino caregivers who were trafficked share their stories and urge all Filipinos to support anti-trafficking legislation

Like thousands of Filipinos, Angela Guanzon was attracted to the promise of America.

So when she got the opportunity to find gainful employment through a recruiter, she didn’t ask any questions. It’s notoriously difficult to uproot and the recruiter made it sound so easy: all Guanzon had to do was come to the United States on the P-1 visa reserved for athletes traveling to participate in sporting events.

Since being rescued, Jayson De Guzman is a survivor advocate against forced labor and human trafficking & Angela Guanzon, a human trafficking survivor from the Philippines. | Photos courtesy of CAST Los Angeles

When Guanzon arrived in the U.S. by the recruiter (who had brought more than 10 other Filipinos), she realized that the recruiter’s promise that she would give Guanzon a legal work visa once she arrived in the U.S. was a lie.

Guanzon said that she immediately was told that she owed $12,000 for transportation to the U.S. and expenses for the visa. The recruiter, who turned out to be a trafficker, said that Guanzon’s salary would be $600 a month with $300 deducted each month for her debts. It would take more than a decade to pay her off.

Guanzon was then sent to work 18-hour days at a retirement home in Long Beach, California. She had to work seven days a week without any days off and the housing that she was promised turned out to be a floor in the hallway, and food would be table scraps.

This experience is so alarmingly familiar to many foreign workers who were swindled and then exploited by traffickers. Sometimes victims don’t immediately recognize that they’ve been caught in a trafficker’s scam, but even if they do, escaping is not exactly simple.

Traffickers often threaten victims by saying they’ll call the police or warn them that if they get stopped by law enforcement, they will be arrested since they don’t have any I.D. (By this point, victims like Guanzon will have had their passports or any documentation taken away.)

“We don’t know anyone here, we don’t know where to go and sometimes you have to try to reason with yourself that, with a trafficker, at least we have a roof where we can sleep and we have food to eat,” Guanzon shared in an Instagram Live event hosted by Freedom United and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) on Thursday, August 13.

Guanzon spoke to a fellow trafficking survivor Jayson De Guzman, who is also Filipino and was recruited by the same trafficker. The two became family in their shared crisis, providing support to each other.

“We became like brother and sister,” Guanzon recalled during an emotional moment during Thursday’s event. “The experience was bad, but I’m glad Jayson was there with me because it also helped me go through the day.”

De Guzman’s experience mirrored Guanzon’s story with the recruiter “showing her true colors” by the time it was too late to turn back. Like Guanzon, De Guzman found himself stripped of his documents and vulnerable to the recruiter.

“I didn’t really understand what my rights were, so I just had to depend on my trafficker and what she was telling me to do,” De Guzman said, noting that he met Guanzon at the same retirement facility in Long Beach.

In California, thousands of foreign workers are trafficked into forced labor every year.

Because of its economic promise, it attracts more temporary foreign workers than any other state, and many of these workers travel through third-party foreign labor contractors (FLC).

Some FLCs are legitimate recruiters, but many of them take advantage of workers in the Third World who, by the time they’re locked into their unlawful employment in the U.S., depend on the traffickers for food, shelter and visas.

California lawmakers have attempted to mitigate worker exploitation for years. In 2014, SB 477 was designed to establish a robust system of oversight for FLCs by requiring the following: registration of FLC; penalizing of California employers for use of non-registered FLC; transparency and honest disclosure of the working terms, conditions and fees before workers are recruited and transported and penalties for violation of these requirements.

SB 477 was signed into law in 2016, but there was an error in the way the law was enforced into “existing legal provisions for farmworkers” Freedom United said.

That means that as it is, the bill allows for a loophole that would limit the bill’s scope to only apply to non-agricultural workers on H-2B visas, meaning that SB 477 would only protect about 3% of migrant workers on temporary work visas.

Along with CAST, Freedom United is urging California to close the loophole by amending SB 477, starting out by putting forth a petition to garner wider support across the Golden State.

Guanzon and De Guzman were lucky in that there was eventually a light at the end of the tunnel. Two years into their unlawful employment, the FBI stepped in when a neighbor noticed that neither ever had a day off; in criminal court, they both testified against their trafficker, who got a five-year prison sentence.

But both Guanzon and De Guzman emphasized that so many victims, particularly Filipino victims, are still trapped in forced labor situations with the COVID-19 pandemic tightening the hold that traffickers have on their victims.

As advocates for CAST, both De Guzman and Guanzon urge Californians to sign the petition to amend SB 477.

“There’s a lot of our impact by telling our story and by sharing our story,” said De Guzman.

“Public action is the best way to make social change, and we need to show that in California, we all care about our immigrant workers and we need more people to advocate on their behalf.”