USA: The Hidden Indentured Class—Local Labor Trafficking

By Rachel Cernansky on October 23, 2013—
“Anna and her husband were supposed to be in the U.S. on their honeymoon. They arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in the spring of 2007 and found Daniel waiting for them with a sign bearing their names. Daniel was an acquaintance, someone Anna’s father-in-law—who lived in Houston—knew through church. He had offered to show them parts of Southern California before they continued on to Texas. It was an attractive detour for a Southeast Asian couple in the U.S. for the first time.

From the airport, they drove to a restaurant for dinner and met some of Daniel’s family—a stop that felt warm and welcoming since they were all from the same country originally. “He was really nice and since we don’t know anybody—and we came from the same country,” Anna recalls, “that’s why we trusted to go with him.”

But then, instead of playing tour guide, Daniel brought the couple to an elder-care facility he owned. He told them to work, care and cook for the residents, and clean the facility. But he continued to be relatively kind, and Anna and her husband thought this was a temporary situation: They would help out, and then be on their way. “There was no one else to work there and the residents were old. We knew that we had to do something, even if we didn’t like to,” she says, adding that Daniel and his mother—who ran the facility along with her son—would intimidate Anna and her husband. Anna remembers thinking,The residents were suffering from dementia and schizophrenia, and if we leave them there all by themselves, we will be in trouble with the law.”

She didn’t necessarily think the residents were mistreated; Anna was simply worried about the perception that she and her husband were neglecting a responsibility for people in demonstrable need. It was a patently false impression, but Anna had no way to know as much without trying to escape to find out—and running the risk of being in trouble with the law. Plus: She was pregnant. Running such a risk, in an unfamiliar place, was a scarier prospect than it might have been otherwise.

Anna was also convinced to stay by the older woman’s coercion: “She started telling us, you have to do this because you’re staying here for free and you’re eating. You live here, you work for it.”

The facility had a phone, but it required a code (unbeknownst to Anna) to make outside calls, and Anna had no cell phone. There was no Internet, and the couple could have tried to flee, but they were told the neighborhood was dangerous.

Daniel continued to be kind to the couple; he was able to convince Anna and her husband that he was looking out for them—albeit demanding some serious favors in return. It was only after Anna and her husband’s tourist visas expired that Daniel’s behavior toward them changed from friendly to authoritative and controlling.

Daniel’s misleading statements morphed into ominous threats to keep them from trying to escape. Daniel made sure they knew he owned a gun. “He told us that there were people before who tried to leave him or did not follow his instructions,” Anna says. “He told us that he hurt those people, saying he can kill.”

Anna, now in her thirties, and her husband were victims of human trafficking—labor trafficking, specifically. Like many other trafficking victims, they were not familiar with U.S. laws and did not know where to turn for assistance. They were not beaten into submission. They were not smuggled into the country. And they were not selling sex. But they were profoundly misled. They were forced to work against their will. They were intimidated into thinking escaping would be more dangerous than staying.

Today, the couple remains in the U.S. on T visas, which are reserved for trafficking survivors. Anna has not yet pressed charges against Daniel—she says the FBI still has an open investigation into her case, and it’s not clear whether or not she will ever be able to press charges; the case may have exceeded the statute of limitations. T visas, however, are only issued to people who cooperate with or assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking cases.

Anna asked that her real name, her husband’s, and Daniel’s, along with her home country, not be revealed, for fear of retribution; she hasn’t seen Daniel in years now, but because they know some of the same people through church—a church she no longer attends—Daniel has made sure Anna still feels threatened.”

For the rest of the original article, please click here.

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