Migrants are among those most vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation, particularly for forced labour and sexual exploitation. In the USA, migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean make up a large proportion of the total number of trafficking victims.
Between 2015 and 2018, 50% of all victims of trafficking forced to work in the U.S. agricultural industry, 48.5% of those forced to work in construction, and 30% of those exploited for domestic work were from Latin America and the Caribbean.
This is the situation which Fabia* found herself in when she arrived in the U.S. Originally from Guatemala, she was 17 when she tried to cross the border between Mexico and the States. When she was met by Border Patrol, she was processed as an Unaccompanied Minor and, although federal court rulings and an anti-trafficking statute state that children should not be held for over 72 hours, Fabia was kept in a border detention facility for 22 days.
Fabia was released when the Office of Refugee Resettlement said they had located one of her relatives in the Southern U.S., and she was released into his custody. But the government had actually placed her back in the hands of her abusers, as Fabia had been sexually abused by this relative when she was just 7 years old.
She found the courage to tell a trusted relative about the sexual abuse she had suffered a decade prior. Although the family member confessed, Fabia was kicked out of the home as a result.
Fabia again found herself forced into domestic servitude when she moved in with a family friend, who again isolated her and told her she should be grateful for having a place to stay at all. Fabia sought the help of an immigration attorney, but instead of helping her, he took $1,500 and called the Office of Refugee Resettlement to report that Fabia was no longer living with her extended family as had been mandated. To Fabia, it felt like whenever she tried to speak up, things only got worse.
Eventually her case was transferred to a social worker, who realised that Fabia was in danger and contacted Hope for Justice. After a series of forensic interviews, we were able to establish that she was a victim of domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Working with the social worker, we were able to move Fabia, now 18, into transitional housing.
Our team of investigators are now collecting evidence and working with law enforcement to build a case against Fabia’s uncles.
We are also working with another non-profit to secure her a T Visa, which allows certain victims of trafficking to stay in the U.S. for up to 4 years if they assist law enforcement.
Most trafficking victims come into contact with public services, like the health or education systems, police or social services, during the period of their exploitation. But not all of those frontline practitioners are able to spot the signs or know where to refer a suspected victim or who to contact. Fabia’s case, like so many others, shows the importance of providing training on human trafficking and modern-day slavery to these professionals.