This special report appeared in the Spring 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.
Despite a strongly worded recommendation from a California-wide task force four years ago urging labor standards officials to look for signs of human trafficking, state and local investigators say there has so far been little coordination or direct follow-up with law enforcement or organizations supporting victims. The task force, which was disbanded in 2007 but is reconvening throughout this spring, outlined the need to identify and rescue victims — as opposed to deporting them in the course of routine labor enforcement sweeps.
Gabriel Thompson worked alongside immigrants in the back of restaurants in New York City and in factories that produced some of the most basic foods in the American diet: lettuce and chicken. Not an immigrant himself, Thompson used his investigative reporting techniques to lift a veil on working conditions that many undocumented immigrants and low-income Americans face daily. His colleagues experienced excruciating soreness from physical labor. They had no employee benefits. And they had to do monotonous and repetitive work, which led to a high rate of injuries. Thompson’s one-year immersion into the lives of working immigrants, documented in his recent book, “Working in the Shadows,” comes at a time when working conditions are changing. The immigrant workers are leaving the workplace under pressure from law enforcement, a trend that is forcing the employers to look for new ways of attracting workers.
The day after a tumultuous confrontation between police and the protesters of the Occupy Oakland movement, more than 2,000 people gathered Wednesday at the civic center to vent their outrage at the heavy-handed eviction tactics, which included launching teargas into the crowd. Thousands of protesters convened in the early evening in an amphitheater in what they were calling Oscar Grant Plaza — officially Frank Ogawa plaza at City Hall, renamed after the victim of a police shooting on BART last year — to discuss the events of the previous 48 hours.