Labor Trafficking

According to a report from researchers at San Diego State University, approximately 38,000 unauthorized Spanish-speaking victims of human trafficking work in San Diego County, California. These workers, who represent 31 percent of unauthorized Spanish-speaking workers in the county, have experienced an incident that meets the official definition of human trafficking. The analysis estimates that of the approximately 174,240 unauthorized Mexicans in San Diego County, about 124,460 are in the labor market.

The definition of human trafficking used in the study was based on U.S. statutes (i.e., the events described by the respondents were violations of U.S. law). The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (pdf, 86 pages) defines human trafficking as, “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or sex slavery.”

The principal objectives of the study were to provide statistically sound estimates on the nature and prevalence of trafficking and labor victimization among unauthorized laborers in San Diego County.

The study identified the six largest labor sectors where unauthorized workers were most likely to find jobs in:

  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Landscaping
  • Janitorial/cleaning services
  • Food processing
  • Manufacturing

The industries with the highest numbers of violations were construction, food processing and janitorial/cleaning. Construction had the highest rates (35 percent for reported trafficking violations and 63 percent for abusive labor practices). Agriculture had the lowest rates of both reported trafficking violations (16 percent) and abusive labor practices (27 percent). The researchers were unable to document why agriculture had the lowest level of victimization. One explanation might be that the insulated and close-knit network of migrant farmworkers in northern San Diego County serves as a protective factor against such victimization.

In general, violations and abuses inflicted during transportation appeared to be far less common than those inflicted by employers at the workplace. Of those who traveled with migrant smugglers, six percent reported experiencing violations compared to 28 percent who reported experiencing violations in the workplace. Examples of violations and abuses included laborers who were forbidden to leave the workplace, whose IDs were confiscated, who were forbidden to contact family members, and who were subjected to physical and sexual violence.

Read the full study, Looking for a Hidden Population: Trafficking of Migrant Laborers in San Diego County (pdf, 153 pages), by Dr. Sheldon X. Zhang.

To learn more about human trafficking and to report a potential trafficking case, visit or contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Exit Notice at 1-888-3737-888.

Date Created: November 28, 2012