My name is Matías. I came to the United States from the Philippines in search of a job that would provide for my wife and daughter. Instead, I was trafficked into the US with a debt I am still attempting to pay back.
I grew up in a very poor family in a rural part of the Philippines. I believed an education would be the way to prosperity. In order to stay in school, I worked full-time, as my family could not afford to help me with tuition. I persisted and graduated from college with a degree in Business Development. However, I could not find a job related to my studies after graduation, so I worked as a secretary.
I eventually fell in love, got married, and had a daughter. But soon after her birth, I was laid off. I was desperate to find another job. At the time, I was also helping my parents, who were aging and ill. This was when I learned about a job working as a housekeeper in the United States.
Like many others, I had dreamed of working abroad to earn more money. The recruiter I met promised me that I would be working full-time with an hourly rate of $7.25 USD, which was one day’s pay for me in the Philippines. They also promised free housing and transportation to and from work.
The recruiter told me that I needed to pay $5,000 upfront as a placement fee. This was more money than I would ever see in my lifetime. How was I supposed to afford this? I asked him. He told me that I could take out a loan from a partnering bank, and I would be able to pay it back within months of working for them. The bank ended up being a loan shark, requiring an interest rate of 28% with additional interest every month. I didn’t know this until too late.
When I arrived in the United States, what I found was very different from what I was promised. I was given two full-time jobs. Between jobs, I could only sleep from 2:00am to 5:00am before waking up for the next shift.
When I received my first paycheck, there were deductions for “housing and transportation” to “miscellaneous”. In the end, I only made $3 an hour. How was I supposed to send money home and pay off my debt with only $3 an hour? When my co-workers spoke up, our employer threatened to report them to the government, and their work hours were reduced. So, I kept my head down and sent back what little money I could.
I endured these conditions for a year and a half before unrest among my co-workers grew to where they could no longer contain it. Two of my-coworkers spoke to me about fleeing. They instructed me on how to take back my immigration documents from our employer. I knew this was not the life I wanted to live, so I followed their instructions and was able to take back my documents. With the little money we had, we fled in the middle of the night and took a bus to California.
From there, I was able to call friends in the Philippines and speak to my family for the first time in years. My friends told me that the situation I was in sounded illegal. I didn’t know what to do, so I searched online and found Advancing Justice-LA. When I called them, an attorney explained to me that I was a victim of a form of human trafficking called indentured servitude, that a real employer wouldn’t take away my immigration documents.
The attorney at Advancing Justice-LA helped me with paperwork to receive a T Visa, which allows me to work in the US legally. He also assisted me in paperwork so that I could see my daughter in the Philippines. After years of being lied to and cheated from, I was shocked to discover that these services were free and would not add to my mountain of debt.
Because I have the freedom now to work legally in the US, I am doing much better. I was hired as a janitor at a McDonalds, and within six months, was promoted to manager. I am able to sleep much more and take care of my health. My focus is now to work to repay my debt and be reunited with my family one day soon. Thanks to my friends, co-workers, and Advancing Justice-LA for my newfound freedom.
Client, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles
*Name and details have been changed to protect client confidentiality