Content Warning: This blog post recounts the story of a minor who was the victim of trafficking and physical and sexual abuse.
As a young girl, Litzy* grew up in a Central American nation with her mother and four younger siblings. By the age of eight, she understood what kind of man her father was. Often, he beat her, her siblings, and their mother—especially when he was drunk. “My family and I were afraid that my father would come to the house to kill my mother every night,” Litzy says. “Many times, we left the house and went to the mountain to sleep to hide from him.” Her father also borrowed money using her mother’s identification documents. Soon, the banks came to collect, threatening to take and sell their land, where they grew milpa and beans and harvested trees for firewood.
Litzy and her mother worked to pay back the money, but it was never enough. Finally, when she was 16, to escape the constant abuse and poverty, and to help her mother pay off the debt, Litzy decided to come to the United States.
During the dangerous journey to the U.S., Litzy’s money was stolen; she suffered from extreme heat and hunger; her life was threatened, and one of her legs was severely injured. After crossing the border, she wandered in the desert for many days until she could go no farther. Litzy sat down and waited for Border Patrol to find her. She was detained and taken to a hospital, where she learned her leg might need to be amputated. After two different surgeries, however, her leg began to improve and she was eventually released into the custody of her mother’s cousin, Camila*. “My mother had sent her all my documents and had approved of my placement with her,” says Litzy.
But Camila was also abusive. She didn’t allow Litzy to attend school and instead forced her to work night after night on her still healing leg, cleaning the store Camila owned. Litzy was not allowed breaks to eat or to use the bathroom. And although Camila paid Litzy a small amount of money, she took that money back for rent and other expenses. Camila would not take Litzy to get her medical care; she refused to drive Litzy to her immigration hearings, and Litzy was not allowed to call her mother. When Camila and her boyfriend left the house, she would lock Litzy in and she kept Litzy’s documents in a safe. “[Camila] would tell me that, if I did not work, she would call immigration on me and they would deport me,” says Litzy. The circumstances were untenable.
Without Camila’s knowledge, Litzy contacted her mother’s brother, Pedro*, who lived in Indianapolis. He came to rescue Litzy while Camila was away, and Litzy was overcome with joy. But her escape with Pedro was not the safe harbor she hoped it would be.
“Unfortunately, my uncle was inappropriate with me, treating me like an attractive grown woman rather than a niece,” she says. Pedro made Litzy sleep in his bed with him; one night, he tried to rape her, but his friend stopped him. The police came and took her uncle into custody.
Fearful about her immigration status after missing her last hearing, Litzy sought the assistance of an attorney at Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. Not until our staff reviewed her case, however, did Litzy understand she was a victim of trafficking. Currently, Senior Staff Attorney Erica Harrigan and Bilingual Paralegal Karen Salazar are helping Litzy to apply for a T Visa, which is specifically for people who report trafficking to law enforcement and cooperate with the investigation.
In the meantime, Litzy’s situation is better than it was, but she just has to wait while the case is processing. “She can’t get work authorization or any other protection. As she already has a removal order, she is at risk of deportation, but there’s nothing that can be done at this point while it’s pending,” Erica says. “If her case is approved, the T Visa is good for four years and she can get work authorization.” But, if her case is denied, Erica tells me, Litzy will be deported.
Unfortunately, Litzy’s experiences are not unique. “Trafficking is far more prevalent than people realize and there are many situations like [Litzy]’s where people may not recognize it as trafficking at first,” says Erica. Like Litzy, those victims are also often minors fleeing already-desperate situations.
Although Litzy’s future is uncertain while her trafficking case pends, her present is much more secure. She is grateful for the assistance she received from the Clinic. “It makes me happy because I didn’t have money to pay for an attorney,” she says.
As for what comes next, Litzy prays her case is approved. “I hope the judge pardons me for not going to my court hearings, and I hope they will give me a visa,” she says. “I hope to do many things.”
To learn more about our services or how to support the Clinic in serving people like Litzy, please visit our website.
*Names and certain identifying details have been changed