Members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee are in Southern California for a hearing on human trafficking.
The lucrative, illicit international business of human trafficking can ensnare farm workers, domestic workers and sex workers. It can involve unscrupulous labor recruiters scooping up unsuspecting workers in rural parts of Thailand. But it can also hit closer to home.
Congressman Ed Royce of Fullerton, House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, says street gangs are increasingly getting into the business of human trafficking.
"They have a system of recruitment where these 'Romeos' go out and find young girls who maybe are having trouble at home," says Royce, adding the recruiters convince the girls "to leave home with someone they do not know yet is a pimp. They think its an older boyfriend."
Royce says the so-called "Romeos" then take the girls far away from home. "The next thing they find is, they are in the employ of the syndicate that Romeo works for," Royce says. "And then they're bought and sold."
Royce says such trafficking can be more lucrative and less dangerous for street gangs than the drug trade.
Internationally, he says, in the modern day version of the slave trade, victims think they are going to find a good job. But then, he says, when they arrive in the U.S., "The first thing they are told is, 'You owe us $10,000, so you will be working in indentured servitude to pay us off for bringing you here.'" He calls that debt bondage.
Royce says lawmakers will introduce legislation following the hearing to crack down on unscrupulous labor recruiters. Under the proposal, he says, recruiters will have to register with the federal government. They also will have to give prospective workers accurate information about the terms of employment in the U.S.
Royce also says the measure would outlaw charging prospective workers hidden fees. "Right now that's a practice a lot of these recruiters use," he says. "We're going to make it illegal under federal law."
L.A. Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass also sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.