Human trafficking survivors in North Dakota remember their journey to safety
BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Your News Leader has shared stories about how trafficking happens in rural areas. Specialists who work to prevent human trafficking have seen numbers increase in recent years.
Two survivors share their stories of how they were pulled into human trafficking circles, what life was like then, and what life is like now.
Jade Garcia is proud of the life she’s living. She works hard at a place she loves and feels safe, even welcomed by the people she serves. But that hasn’t always been the case.
When Jade first came to North Dakota in 2013, she started working 16 to 18 hours a day at a hotel in Dickinson, with no time to eat meals. As an immigrant to the United States, she didn’t realize she had laws to protect her against the work conditions she was experiencing.
”During that time, they were also threatening us, saying they were watching every move we make. So, we cannot do anything, and we cannot ask for help because they are watching us,” said Garcia.
Jade now works as a CNA in a nursing home in Bismarck. Before coming to the U.S. for work, Jade and co-worker Jhoel Gallego worked in Iraq. They say their workspace was destroyed by a suicide bomber, but would still choose that over their experience in labor trafficking.
”I’d rather go back to the war zone than getting mistreated, you know? Getting treated worse than the dogs sometimes,” said Gallego.
Experts say labor trafficking often appears in the agriculture sector, but the workers are trafficked long before they arrive in the country. Labor contractors involved in trafficking can trap people in several ways.
”Before they come, even arrive in the U.S., they are already charged exorbitant fees and that charge of exorbitant fees leads them to some kind of debt before they arrive and that debt upon itself is an indicator of labor trafficking,” said Rwatie Matsika, labor trafficking specialist with the North Dakota Human Trafficking Task Force.
Contractors sometimes confiscate passports or other important documents until that debt is paid off, then threaten workers further saying they are in the country illegally since they do not have those important documents to show law enforcement.
Jade and Jhoel say even though they’ve closed the previous chapter of their lives, they are still healing from their experience in labor trafficking. But they have hopes and dreams for their future.
”My dream is, if we can stay here longer,” said Garcia.
And have even fallen in love serving the residents in their care.
“We love every single one of them... even the grumpy ones,” said Gallego.
They say they hope others who are in similar situations find the help they need to escape labor trafficking. For more information, visit the North Dakota Human Trafficking Task Force website.
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