AALDEF To Discuss Legal Avenues for Individuals Coerced into Debt Bondage
New York—A teenage labor trafficking survivor from China will be able to stay in the U.S., attend public school, be reunited with her family, and receive work authorization after her petition for a T Visa was recently approved, according the civil rights group the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). AALDEF—which filed the T Visa petition on her behalf—held a press conference today to elevate public awareness about the enormous difficulties in assisting victims of forced labor trafficking, which plays a growing role in the nations economy due to ongoing problems in the U.S. immigration and labor systems.
Sara was age 14 when she was sent to the U.S. by her parents unaccompanied in 2002, in hopes that she could make a better life for herself. After an arduous journey from Fujian, China, her traffickers immediately raised the amount of the debt owed for her transportation expenses to tens of thousands of dollars, detained her in a basement for weeks, stripped her down, beat her, and threatened additional harm to her family if she failed to pay off the debt. For more than three years, she worked in city restaurants six days a week, 14 hours a day, wiring to China most of her wages every month and unable to attend school.
Sara, who does not wish her real name to be used, provided the following statement: “I am very happy right now because obtaining the T Visa enables me to apply for the immigration of my family to come here, stay with me, and I will no longer feel as lonely. Now I can attend classes, go to school and think about what I can do with my life now. Also, I’m very thankful to those who helped me. Thank you.”
Said Ivy Suriyopas, AALDEF Staff Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow, “The harmful effects of labor trafficking exist in full force throughout the United States, and is tragically integrated into industries such as domestic work, restaurants and bars, garment sweatshops, agriculture, and other low-wage industries in which there is insufficient enforcement of labor laws. Community awareness is essential to ensuring we are able to connect survivors, especially youth, to the services and support they need to extricate themselves from inhumane conditions.”
T Visas are available to trafficking survivors who have been subjected to force, fraud, or threats for the purpose of involuntary servitude, debt bondage, or involuntary sex work. Approximately 620 T Visas have been granted out of a total of 25,000 possible visas since the passage of the Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, mainly because survivors have faced barriers in coming forward.
AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative provides free legal representation to trafficked women and youth to ensure survivors access to human services. Approximately 800,000 victims are now trafficked across international borders each year, and between 18,000 to 20,000 are trafficked into the U.S. As many as 7,000 individuals—the largest group—are from Asia and the Pacific Islands.
AALDEF has developed outreach materials in twelve languages—English, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Punjabi, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, and Vietnamese. To make a referral on behalf of a survivor who speaks any of the above languages, please contact AALDEF Community Organizer Mabel Tso at 212.966.5932 x224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.