I was promised that my work would be legal, and that I would be paid $11.10 an hour for at least forty hours of work per week. I was happy to start working and I was ready to send money to my family back home. To pay for my visa, I had to take out a loan of 10,000 pesos from my trafficker. They promised me that I would earn enough money so I thought I could work off my debt.
But when I arrived in California, everything was different. I lived in a single room with 34 other men who had also been trafficked. I was immediately told that I had to follow rules. I was not allowed to leave the camp, nobody was allowed to visit me, and all lights had to be turned off by 10pm.
A man working for our trafficker monitored us. He would tell us that our trafficker had a lot of power and money and could take our visas away at any time and deport us back to Mexico. We never worked the 40 hours promised by our trafficker.
One day an inspector visited the camp and we were told not to speak with him, or else we would be deported. I was terrified, but I still spoke with the inspector and signed a paper.
When my trafficker learned what I did, he called the police. But we soon found out that the police couldn’t arrest us just because we complained about our employer. It was through the inspectors that I learned about my rights and that we were being exploited and manipulated by our trafficker.
Now, I work for a farm where I feel respected and welcomed. My family and I are together, and we are happy to have escaped my trafficker, but we are lucky. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.
Temporary visa holders like me who work on farms need protection. Many are still at risk of being trafficked and coerced into forced labor under the threat of deportation like I was.
IF I HAD KNOWN MY RIGHTS, MY TRAFFICKERS WOULD HAVE HAD LESS CONTROL OVER ME AND MY FELLOW WORERS.
Story sourced from the Department of Homeland Security. All pictures shown are for representation purposes only and are commercially available portraits. We have taken great care to change names and identifying details for Survivor’s confidentiality and protection