From Sweatshop Slaves to Anti-Trafficking Lobbyists

Flor Molina thought it was her lucky break. At 28, she had just lost her youngest child and was working two jobs in Puebla, Mexico, but not making enough money to feed and clothe her surviving children. When her sewing teacher told her about a job in the United States that would pay enough money to support her family and maybe even start her own business, she accepted. She had never been out of the country and the job meant leaving her children with her mother indefinitely.

Molina and her sewing teacher were flown to Tijuana, where a powerful woman known in Puebla as “la Senora” met them at the border. She confiscated Molina’s documents and clothing for “safekeeping.” A coyote took the two women to Los Angeles, where they were immediately put to work in a sewing factory. Molina was subjected to physical abuse, and wasn’t allowed to leave the building unattended. She was, for all practical purposes, a slave.

Molina’s experience is typical. What’s remarkable is what she did with it. Just 40 days into her internment, Molina broke free. She got permission to go to church alone and figured out how to contact a concerned fellow worker who had noticed Molina’s abuse in the shop. With her help Molina connected with the nonprofit Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST).

CAST has worked with victims of forced labor since 1998 helping them re-enter society and training them as advocates. Survivors are well-positioned to lobby for policies that help victims, curb abuse and prosecute offenders, says Kay Buck, executive director of the Coalition. “We’re learning directly from the survivors we’re serving, and that’s informing all of these policy measures to have an impact on future lives.”

Molina is now a pioneering member of CAST’s Survivors Caucus, a group of women from 13 countries who escaped forced labor in the United States. They are directly involved in crafting policies that meet the needs of trafficking victims — like what kinds of health care and visa protections they receive. They also serve as a support group.

“Now that I’m a grandmother, I want a world free of slavery,” Molina says. “Now that I survived, I want to change something.”

Learn more at Christa Hillstrom’s Moyers & Company article: Escape from an L.A. Sweatshop: How Modern-Day Slaves Become Lobbyists.

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