SAN FRANCISCO -- Almost one year after the California Labor Commissioner led a raid on the now infamous El Monte apartment complex where over 70 workers from Thailand were held in slavelike conditions, the U.S. Justice Department has still not provided an adequate explanation of how it could have been aware of the existence of the sweatshop for three years and failed to take appropriate action, said Lloyd W. Aubry, Jr., Director of the California Department of Industrial Relations.
"Governor Wilson demanded an internal investigation of the U.S. Justice Department within weeks of the discovery of El Monte," Aubry said. "Attorney General Janet Reno responded, indicating that she would have the directors of both the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Immigration and Naturalization Service review the actions taken in this case, but to date we have heard nothing." Aubry noted that he had himself written at least two letters to Janet Reno providing more information and again requesting that an investigation be made public, but these communications elicited no response from the Attorney General.
When the California Labor Commissioner's office, under the Department of Industrial Relations, acted on an anonymous tip that led to its discovery of conditions in the El Monte apartment complex, it was also discovered that the INS had done surveillance on the El Monte site some three years earlier which corroborated the findings of garment manufacturing and slavelike conditions in the compound. After the Labor Commissioner obtained a warrant and led the enforcement action that freed the workers and resulted in prison sentences for the perpetrators, it was learned that the INS had, some three years earlier, consulted with the U.S. Attorney's Office and subsequently decided that they did not have enough information to obtain a warrant. The INS then closed its case on the matter and has no record of referring the case to any other enforcement jurisdiction.
The California Labor Commissioner obtained a warrant to enter the El Monte compound in August, 1995 just weeks after first learning of its existence. The Labor Commissioner obtained an agreement from the INS to participate in the enforcement action and provide armed agents and translators. The INS then pulled out of the operation within hours of the pre-dawn raid. Undeterred, the Labor Commissioner went forward with the action, using local police and securing translators from a variety of governmental and public agencies.
"These were very serious crimes that were allowed to go on for years with no formidable action taken to stop them," Aubry said. "The thought that a bureaucracy can make such major mistakes without any apparent oversight is abhorrent."
(Note to Editors: A copy of Mr. Aubry's most recent letter to the Attorney General is attached in Adobe Acrobat format. Other documentation is available upon request.)