FULLERTON – Angela Guanzon thought she had it made.
But she couldn’t have been more wrong.
A native of the Philippines, Guanzon came to the United States as a college student on a valid visa with the promise of a good job.
“In the Philippines, going to the United States is like winning the lottery,” she said Monday during a House Foreign Affairs Committee field hearing on human trafficking held at Cal State Fullerton. “I was so excited to go, I did not ask many questions. When I got my visa to go to the United States, my passport was taken and I was told it would be held for me. When I got to the United States, things were very different than I thought.”
An individual who arranged for Guanzon’s travel from the Philippines told her she owed $12,000 for transportation and would have to work a decade to pay off the debt.
For two years, Guanzon was forced to work in a retirement home near Los Angeles for 18 hours a day and sleep on the floor in the hallway. Finally, an alert neighbor noticed Guanzon never had a day off and alerted authorities, resulting in her rescue by the FBI.
She testified against the trafficker in court, who was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.
Guanzon’s story was among some of the compelling testimony presented during the hearing organized by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Royce has also introduced a House resolution aimed at tackling international human trafficking.
The purpose of the hearing was to shed light on the pervasive problem of both sex and labor trafficking and to offer solutions.
Since 2000, more than 130 countries have enacted anti-trafficking laws, due in part to pressure from the United States, Royce said.
“The reason they do it is a simple one,” he told those at the hearing. “They try to stay out of the report the State Department now does every year that shames them for their failure to comply with efforts to stop the trafficking of underage girls.”
California’s Proposition 35, passed a year ago with 81 percent approval, is a good start in tackling human trafficking, Royce said.
“This new legislation has teeth,” he said, adding that prosecutors want more laws to make it easier to go after violators.
Prop. 35 increased penalties for individuals convicted of sex trafficking and prostitution-related offenses. In some cases, penalties have been doubled
Royce also praised the Orange County District Attorney’s Office’s Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit, which he said has gained nationwide attention.
“The HEAT unit scrapped conventional and traditional ways of law enforcement and took a fresh, comprehensive approach to solve the problem using a tactical plan called PERP: prosecution, education, resources and publicity,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas testified during the hearing.
The average age of children being trafficked in Orange County is 12, Rackauckas said.
“These victims are being isolated, coerced, seduced, threatened and beaten into turning out profits for absolute disregard for other human beings,” he said.
By SCOTT SCHWEBKE / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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