1995 Thai Slave Laborers Naturalized

Yesterday, Teresa Watanabe at the Los Angeles Times reported the naturalization of some of the Thai laborers that had been enslaved in an El Monte sweatshop in 1995.

“I’m an American and this is my home now!” said Maliwan Clinton, 39, as she waved a miniature American flag at the Montebello ceremony. The journey from slavery to freedom took 13 years.

Many of the 70 El Monte workers who have acquired citizenship this year or expect to do so soon.

More than 40 of them had gathered Sunday to celebrate with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which successfully fought for a $4-million settlement from manufacturers and retailers for their exploitation and won an uphill battle to gain legal status for the workers.

“Because of their courage, they were able to take what was a horrific experience and emerge from it as victors,” said the legal center’s Julie Su, their lead attorney for 13 years. “I’m really proud of them, but I’m also proud of America because this nation opened its arms to them and showed its best ideals of freedom and human rights.”

The El Monte case drew international attention, blazed new paths in immigration and labor law, led to legislation offering visas for victims of human trafficking and became the subject of an exhibit in the Smithsonian Institution.

The case marked the first time in federal court that garment workers successfully held manufacturers and retailers responsible for the actions of their labor contractor.

You can read about their long road to freedom at the LA Times.

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