By Sister Kate Reid, ASC
The World Day Against Trafficking on Monday has passed, but trafficking knows no calendar, and the need for vigilance continues. These days, I’m thinking a lot about clients I helped climb out of the human hell of trafficking.
This summer, I retired after 15 years of the most gratifying ministry I’ve ever had. I worked for the Immigration Law Program of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri in St. Louis, which provides free legal representation for poor people. I represented hundreds of immigrants who needed help applying for immigration benefits.
I found the work so gratifying because I felt I was helping God answer the prayers of those for whom God has a special care: survivors of war trauma, women and children who are survivors of domestic violence and victims of human trafficking.
None of the people I represented was smuggled into the country. And none, at least initially, even recognized that he or she was a victim of human trafficking. They blamed themselves for not realizing that they were being tricked into servitude.
One woman I helped comes to mind especially. Eva (not her real name) was married to a man who had a student visa to live in the U.S. She had no desire to follow him here, and actually looked forward to some years of relief from his beatings.
However, after he had been studying in the U.S. for more than a year, he began luring her to join him with the promise that she could continue her education here. He was clever enough to hold out a prize that he knew she longed for.
He successfully petitioned for her visa to enter the U.S. as the spouse of a student. Within five days of her arrival, he told her the visa did not allow her to go to school but that it did allow her to work.
Over time, Eva would come to understand that her husband had become indebted to his cousin and had coaxed her to come to the U.S. so she could work eight- to 12-hour days in a braiding salon to pay off his debt.
Eva’s husband and his cousin had hatched a plan for her earnings to be handed over by the shop owner to the cousin. There was even a written contract for the arrangement.
Eva thought she had no recourse. If she dared to cross her husband, or even to question him, he beat her and threatened to send her back home “in a box.”
She believed him. One particularly brutal beating sent her fleeing from their apartment. She stayed with a friend from work who helped her find a divorce attorney.
The divorce attorney realized that Eva would be out of lawful immigration status if she was no longer the spouse of an immigrant student. So the attorney referred her to us at the Immigration Law Program at Legal Services.
Our Family Law Unit helped Eva get a divorce, and I helped her make her case for a human trafficking visa. Eva wrote her personal statement detailing the lies, domestic abuse, death threats and circumstances of her involuntary servitude.
We gathered supporting documents such as a recording of a 911 emergency call, a copy of the “contract” between her husband and the salon owner, and federal charges against her husband.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reviewed our submissions and agreed that Eva had not only been a victim of domestic violence but also had been trafficked by her husband and his cousin into forced labor. USCIS granted Eva a human trafficking victim visa, which authorized her to work and offered a path to become a permanent resident and eventually a U.S. Citizen.
I am happy to report that Eva is now a lawful permanent resident, a free woman.
In one of our closing conversations, I quoted to Eva Joseph’s words to his brothers who had sold him into slavery in Egypt and inadvertently positioned him to save his father and brothers from famine:
“What he [you (brothers)] intended for evil, God has used for good.” (Genesis 50:20)
It was a privilege to help God answer Eva’s prayers and make a way for her to become a documented U.S. immigrant who knows she is resilient and blessed.