Fifteen years ago, I was trafficked into the United States to work at a hotel.
I escaped to Manila at 19 to flee from my abusive husband after he threatened to kill me and our children. I had to find work to care for my children, but could not find well-paying employment. A friend referred me to a recruitment agency that was looking for housekeepers to work in hotels in the United States.
I had heard that such agencies were scams, so I researched this agency on the website of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, which is our government agency that gives licenses to labor recruiters. Their license was listed as in good standing. I felt that if our government had done the work to ensure that their license was in good standing, they must have a good reputation and that it would be safe to work for them. Reassured after doing my research, I went in to apply.
When I visited the agency, they explained the “rollover” visa that I would receive. Because I would work in a hotel, they said I would also receive free housing, food, and transportation. They had an official application and an official contract. When I signed the contract, I received two copies “for my records.”
Then they asked for a $2,500 recruitment fee. This was more money than I had ever seen in my life; I had to borrow the money from my brother. Although I was scared to ask for help and give this money away to strangers, I felt relieved because I thought it was going to a reputable company.
I soon departed for Georgia and found that the agency’s promises were untrue. I shared an apartment that contained mattresses and a refrigerator with three other recruits. $70 was deducted from each of my paychecks to cover the cost of my rent. We stole linens from the hotel and scavenged through trash for other furniture.
There was no transportation, so we walked 2 hours to work and 2 hours to get home. We did not receive free food, so we had to walk 1.5 hours to the nearest supermarket to purchase food, although many of us did not have enough money to purchase food after all of our deductions.
Our supervisor was a very controlling woman who had a strict curfew of 10pm. If we wanted to go anywhere outside work or home, we had to receive her permission first. She warned she would have us deported if we did not comply with her rules. I stuck with these conditions because I was determined to remain in the United States to continue paying back my brother and sending home money to my children.
Work at the hotel was very difficult. I would awaken at 4am, walk to work from 5am to 7am, and clean rooms until 11pm. I could never finish cleaning all of the hotel rooms that they assigned for me in one day. I was always in a hurry and worried about completing my work. My knees and legs hurt all the time. I became sick very often, but was never allowed to stay home from work.
After working for this hotel, I was moved to California to work as a caregiver for elderly patients. Then, I broke my arm. I called the agency for assistance, but they never returned my calls. I was desperate and reached out to a friend I had met from the agency. She told me about T Visas and that I could escape and receive medical assistance. She referred me to Advancing Justice-LA.
I worked with a lawyer on my T Visa application, and it was approved in September. Since then, I have found employment where I am being paid fairly. I have gone to the doctor to care for my arm and illnesses. I am working to repay my brother, and I will be going home to see my children for the first time in years.
I am ashamed that I was still a victim of trafficking despite researching the agency. I am angry that this agency has a license in good standing, even though they do not practice in such a way. However, I am now free and can care for my family and repay my debts.
Client, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles
*Name and details have been changed to protect client confidentiality
From early advocacy that led to the creation of the T Visa, to educating worker populations on their labor rights, we at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles continue the fight to end human trafficking. Donate today and support our work, ensuring the next person who comes into our office is provided with the critical legal services they need for their freedom.