Pablo arrived in the United States using an H2B visa. Having paid his recruiter a substantial amount of money, he was told that he would be employed by a hotel in Nevada. Upon his arrival, he found out that there was no work for him in a hotel. Instead, he was forced against his will to work in various households as a housekeeper for minimal pay. His recruiter kept his passport with the visa that eventually expired.
After one year without legal status, Pablo left his housekeeping job without his recruiter’s knowledge. He found a job as a live-in caregiver and worked 24/7 without leave. This time he was paid a reasonable salary for his services.
Since he is undocumented, Pablo would like to legalize his stay by applying for a working visa. Obtaining a visa as a caregiver could take several years. Being in unlawful status, it may also be impossible to get a nonimmigrant working visa. Pablo has heard about the case of a Filipino woman getting something called a “T” visa, which is given to victims of human trafficking. He wants to apply for the same visa.
Pablo was told that he fits the profile of a trafficking victim. But when he was informed that part of the requirement is that he assists law enforcement agencies in prosecuting his recruiter and employer, he had second thoughts about filing for the T visa. According to Pablo, he could not in conscience assist in persecuting the person who helped him enter the United States. He said that despite paying the recruiter money, he still feels that he owes this person a debt of gratitude.
The story of Pablo is a story of many of our kababayans who are victims of human trafficking but are afraid to pursue cases against their recruiters. Very few find the strength to fight for their rights and liberate themselves from the traffickers with law enforcement authorities’ support. In an effort to reach out and assist victims of human trafficking, the Obama administration proclaimed the month of January as the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Human trafficking is a serious offense. It is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers lure individuals with false promises of employment and a better life. Traffickers often take advantage of poor, unemployed individuals and the undocumented who lack access to social safety nets.
Not all failed recruitment or labor contracts may be classified as trafficking. To consider a case as ‘trafficking’ depends on the type of work, the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain or maintain work.
A trafficking survivor may avail of the protection of the law anytime he can show that he was a victim of a “severe form of trafficking in persons.” The severity may be proven by showing that the victim was brought to the US either for: (1) the purpose of a commercial sex act by force, fraud or coercion, or was under age 18; or (2) labor or services induced by force, fraud or coercion and for the purpose of subjecting the victim to slavery, debt bondage or involuntary service.
The ‘T’ visa
In October 2000, Congress created the “T” nonimmigrant status when it passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA). The legislation offers protection to victims.
The T visa allows victims to remain in the US and obtain permanent immigrant visa status.
The applicant for the T visa is expected to comply with reasonable requests by authorities to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking. If the victim is not willing to cooperate, the T visa will not be approved. Some victims are therefore afraid to pursue their applications for T visas. To help the victims gather the courage to assist in prosecution, the family and community must be supportive of the efforts undertaken by the trafficking victim. The prevention of human trafficking requires a team effort not just from the government but also from public.
There is no exact number on how many Filipinos are victims of human trafficking in the US. In the media and even in the blog of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, many Filipinos relate how they became victims of unscrupulous individuals who forced them into labor and debt bondage. Many cases involve domestic workers but there are also teachers who claim to be victims of trafficking. In the recent federal case of Nunag Tanedo v East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, 350 Filipino teachers scored a victory when a jury awarded them $4.5 million in damages. These cases and the other human trafficking cases where the employers were investigated, charged and convicted manifest the increasing awareness of the issue of human trafficking. We each play a role in curbing extreme exploitation and abuses of workers and innocent kababayan.
(To report trafficking in persons call the following US numbers: 1-888-428-7581 or 1-888-3737-888. Author Atty. Lourdes Tancinco may be reached at email@example.com or at 8877177 or 7211963)