Masthead for North America Out of the Shadows


In North America, every state has reports of human trafficking, with the most cases being reported in California, Texas, and Florida (Polaris). In 2017, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that one in seven children reported missing was likely a victim of sex trafficking and of those, 88 percent were in the care of child welfare when they went missing (Reuters). Migrant farm workers can become trafficking victims because their legal status in the US is often tied to their employment. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, passed in 2000, made human trafficking a federal crime.


Flor was taking sewing classes in Mexico. Her sewing teacher was approached by a trafficker because she knew a lot of women who knew how to sew and would be desperate to come to the United States to make money. She was told that when she got to the U.S. she would have a job to send money home, food and a place to stay. She was forced to work 18 hours a day making dresses that were being sold for $200 department stores. She was forced to sleep at the factory in a storage room, and had to share a single mattress with another victim. She was forbidden to talk to anyone or from putting one step outside of the factory. (Source 1, Source 2)
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“But I was promised $11 an hour,” he protested. Manuel had been recruited in Guanajuato, Mexico to work on a potato farm in North Carolina. The recruiters charged Manuel and 40 other Mexican males $1,200 each for their H-2A visa, despite these fees being illegal. When Manuel and his coworkers tried to complain, their supervisors physically abused them and threatened to have them deported. By the end of the season, despite his 12-hour workdays, Manuel hadn’t even earned enough money to cover his recruitment fee. The National Human Trafficking Hotline connected him with a pro-bono lawyer who helped to obtain Manuel’s back wages. Manuel is now an advocate for other survivors of human trafficking. (Source)
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When Tonya was 13, she met Eddie (a pseudonym) at the apartment she was living in with her mother in the Dallas, Texas, area. His estranged wife was the property manager. Tonya was classmates with Eddie’s stepdaughter, so the two would often see each other at the apartment and in the local grocery store. Things began to change one night when Tonya ran into Eddie at a bar. The two reconnected, the flirting picked up where it left off and Tonya went home with Eddie that night. Tonya was a runaway at the time, so she eventually moved in with Eddie and the two began a relationship. However, it was when the two were at a party filled with alcohol and drugs that the relationship took a turn, when Eddie asked Tonya for the first time to have sex with another man for money. What she thought would be a one-time thing became an everyday routine for the next few weeks. “Being able to sleep with that many people and live with myself and get up every day and keep doing it and just lying there being helpless was so hard,” Tonya said. (Source)
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My last year of high school I met a guy named Trey. He asked if I wanted to make a lot of money and gave me his card. One of my friends said, “Throw it away! That guy is evil.” I thought, evil … what a weird thing say about someone. I really thought I had just met some cool new friends. But one night Trey snuck me into a club, and they got me drunk and drugged me. Trey and his boys mentally beat me down and called me a drug addict. Suddenly, I owed Trey money for drugs and alcohol. It only took two months to lose everything. My first john was actually a lie and a trap set by Trey. I was told that I just needed to entertain this client of Trey’s. We had a glass of wine and talked, and he asked me questions. I was an open book: “This is what my parents do, I’m from here, my parents live here…” And then Trey had all the information he wanted. Soon after I was drugged and sold. I was homeless, living with other boys on Trey’s floor. (Source)
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Daniel had come to the U.S. on an H-2A Visa and began working on a farm with a group of mostly men who also held the same visa. After arriving, Daniel and his coworkers began working extremely long days with limited access to food and water and were paid less than they had been promised. He reported that his employer verbally abused the workers on a daily basis and also disclosed that he had witnessed his employer physically assault a coworker. Daniel explained that they were afraid to leave the farm, because their employer had confiscated their passports upon arrival and refused to give them back even though the workers had asked repeatedly. Furthermore, the nearest town was far away and the workers had no way of getting there. (Source)
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This teenager and his friends grew up more than 2,500 miles from central Ohio, in the western highlands of Guatemala. They were impoverished. The smuggler promised them a chance at a better life in America in exchange for $15,000. To help pay, some of their families traded the deeds to their homes. Once the teens made the dangerous trip north and crossed the border, most were detained by the border patrol and then turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as unaccompanied minors. It was the job of HHS to place them with a relative or adult sponsor, and the smuggler had a network of accomplices who posed as sponsors for the boys. Instead of being safely settled, they were brought to Ohio, and forced to live and work at an egg farm in virtual slavery to pay off their debts. (Source)
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