There are an estimated 403,000 people in modern slavery in the US (GSI 2018). The US attracts migrants and refugees who are particularly at risk of vulnerability to human trafficking. Trafficking victims often responding to fraudulent offers of employment in the US migrate willingly and are subsequently subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude in industries such as forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Low, semi- and unskilled domestic and foreign labourers are at risk of forced labour within the agricultural sector. Migrants from Mexico have been found in conditions of forced labour in the USA, where they are subjected to poor living and working conditions including excessive working hours, withholding and non-payment of salaries, confinement to plantations, refusal of medical care and physical and sexual abuse.
Ana crossed the Mexico-US border seeking the American Dream and to provide a better life for her son. However instead, she found herself forced to work long hours picking fruit, with little pay and poor living conditions under the threat of violence. Ana was finally freed when two people she had asked for help called the police.
When I crossed the Mexico-U.S. border I thought I was going to be living a dream by being in a better country to raise my son. Unfortunately, we fell into the hands of bad people and everything changed. At first I didn’t mind working from sunrise to sunset picking fruit because I knew the money would come in handy. But when I was only able to keep $40 for a week’s worth of work, and went days without seeing my child, I was shattered. Not only was I working long hours, but my son and I were also confined to a small, dirty room. I would go nights without sleep protecting him from the roaches and mice that were in that room, too. I would beg the boss to let me go so that I could find a better place to live, but she always said I was never leaving.
One day when the boss wasn’t home, I had the courage to walk out of the house and seek help. I realized I was in the middle of nowhere and would most likely never get away. However, two good Samaritans walking by asked if I needed help and I yelled YES! I told them I needed to get away with my son, but a few minutes later the boss showed up. She dragged me back to the house and threatened me. I thought our chance to escape had passed, and I feared what would happen to us, but the good Samaritans called the police. When they arrived to the house we were finally freed.
The officer took us to a shelter and said everything was going to be okay. The next day I met Linda from Family Services. She explained she was going to help my son and me with anything that we needed. I told her I was scared for our lives and that I didn’t feel safe not knowing exactly where I was and what was going to happen. Her tone of voice and words of encouragement made me feel so comforted. She spoke Spanish just like us, and that was a huge relief. She asked a few questions and explained that I had been a victim of labor trafficking.
I am really grateful for Linda and the other people from the different organizations that have been involved with my son and me in overcoming these difficult situations. Thanks to these programs I have the opportunity to incorporate myself into society and feel free. These programs give us the opportunity to have a better life, a roof over our heads and food on the table. Without all your help, I think we would still be stuck in the same situation, and forgotten. I am thankful to all who work to help and support people in need. I hope that by sharing my story, more people can learn about these programs and get out of their misery.
Courtesy of Family Services Supporting Tulare County