When Arien Garcia first escaped life as a victim of human sex trafficking, she struggled to find a job anywhere in Fresno.
His non-violent criminal record has always pushed his job applications to the bottom of the pile. She said she applied to “every McDonald’s and Taco Bell in Fresno and Clovis” and even interviewed at a local subway on Christmas Eve.
“I was more than determined to have something else that didn’t define me as my past, and I was turned down every time,” Garcia said. “It was so frustrating.”
But now survivors like Garcia could get help clearing old non-violent convictions under a proposed state law with broad support among local leaders.
Garcia met Tuesday with Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, Assembly Member Jim Patterson, Police Chief Paco Balderrama and human trafficking support group Breaking the Chains to urge the governor Gavin Newsom to sign AB 262 as law.
The bill, introduced in the legislature by Patterson, would help speed up the erasure of non-violent criminal records of victims of human trafficking. It would also eliminate the requirement to pay fees before a court hearing.
Seeking work as a survivor
Today Garcia is the Youth Program Manager for the Central Valley Justice Coalition. But the road to employment has not been easy.
Under AB 262, survivors would have their cases purged with local law enforcement and the state Department of Justice within 90 days of a judge’s order, rather than time to time. current wait which can take up to a year.
For a survivor unable to pass a background check to get a job, a year is too long, supporters said.
Garcia is one of an estimated 27 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, according to the Central Valley Justice Coalition. From 2010 to 2018, more than 700 victims were identified and rescued, according to Central Valley Against Human Trafficking.
So far this year, Fresno Police have investigated 52 human trafficking cases, which have led to the arrest of 20 human traffickers and the release of 59 trafficking victims, said Balderrama.
Dyer admitted that under his tenure as former police chief, the department “got it wrong” and treated the trafficked woman as suspects rather than victims.
The department changed its approach after investigators wiretapped a local gang that trafficked women and learned of the conditions to which the victims were subjected.
“Some of these young women would love to go to school and volunteer because they have kids, but their past forbids them to do so,” Dyer said. “So today I urge the governor to sign this bill.”
Allow survivors to move forward
Support groups and local leaders say state law would have a huge impact on the daily lives of survivors of human trafficking and sex trafficking.
Dominique Brown turned to Breaking the Chains when she wanted to get out of her former life as a trafficked sex worker, but her pending charges in court prevented her from leading a normal life.
She said she couldn’t volunteer in her daughter’s class or go on field trips because of her criminal record. Her daughter is now 10 years old and she has a baby boy on the way.
Brown said the ability to speed up the process of erasing victim records would help victims move forward with their lives.
“Being able to volunteer at your daughter’s or children’s school – that’s huge for me, I really wanted to,” said the survivor advocate.
Patterson said he was confident Newsom would sign the bill, “but we wanted to take this moment to celebrate how far we’ve come.”
Garcia said she believed the bill would have ripple effects in improving the community, strengthening the workforce and ultimately giving hope to former victims. “It’s a long time to come.”
Melissa Montalvo is a reporter for the Fresno Bee and a member of the Report for America Corps. This article is part of California division, a collaboration between editorial offices examining income inequality and economic survival in California.
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