In June 2018, two Monterey County site inspectors visited a Salinas cannabis farm, where they encountered a small group of farmworkers who they suspected had been trafficked.
The farmworkers, who spoke no English, took off running when Monterey County Resource Management Agency officials approached them. They couldn’t go far, though — the cultivation site was fenced in. The farmworkers seemed terrified, the county’s prosecuting attorney later said.
Their behavior was unusual enough that inspectors called the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, who sent deputies to investigate.
It soon became clear the dozen or so Hmong farmworkers, employed by labor contractor Levi Trimmigration, were living in substandard housing: metal shipping containers furnished only with camping equipment. They had no running water, no ventilation and slept on camping cots.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, California is one of the most prominent sites of human trafficking in the U.S. In 2018, of the nearly 11,000 cases reported nationally, more than 1,600 came from California. About 150 of those cases were reports of labor trafficking.