How 2 Pinoy trafficking victims are finding hope in US
LONG BEACH, California – Two Filipino caregivers have been awarded trafficking visas earlier this month, but their identities have been protected out of fear of retaliation.
"Carlos" was a seafarer from Iloilo and "Josephine", a teacher from Pangasinan.
In 2010, they thought they finally got a chance at a better life in America when they were promised work visas for hotel jobs that pay almost $8 an hour by the now defunct Adman Agency in the Philippines.
But when they arrived in Arizona, their employers told them they would work as caregivers, earning less than $2 an hour.
"He brought me to the home care so when I asked him why am I here, and he yelled at me and said everything that the agency told you in Manila are all lies. So you will work here as a caregiver and not a hotel house keeper or whatever," said Josephine.
The two first met at the Adman Agency office in Manila where they each spent about P350,000 on placement, training, travel fees, as well as loans to fund their chance at America in exchange for work visas that they thought would be hotel jobs in Arizona.
"Dumating kami sa Arizona, sinundo kami ng husband ng employer namin at sinabi na pag wala renewal sa H2B visa namin anong gagawin nyo uuwi ba kayo or itutuloy ang work nyo? Ibig sabihin nun mag TNT na. Tapos kinuha ang passport at contract namin. Hindi na bumalik ang contract. Sa contract po $7.55 per hour," said Carlos.
With passports confiscated and debt from having to pay off Adman's fees, as well as earning for their families in the Philippines, they said they had no choice but to work as caregivers.
"I had no experience at all about caregiving so my employer told me to enroll in a caregiving class again. So, I had to pay," said Josephine.
Conditions only got worse inside the workplace. A work week meant at least six 24 hour days for about $200 a week with as many as 5 patients.
"Sa isang home care, limang patient lahat--stroke, at Parkinson's naka wheel chair--lahat. Lahat Ako pa ligo, feeding, transferring, housekeeping, medication. Isa lang ako pong caregiver 24-7 po ang work ko. Sa sofa ako natutulog. Minsan sa sahig," said Carlos.
They were threatened with deportation and breach of contract lawsuits if they complained. Less than two months into the job, they each fled, eventually reunited in California where their work visas expired but continued working under the table as caregivers until they realized they may be victims of human trafficking.
"Ayoko po maging illegal sa US. Pumunta ako sa US dahil gusto ko mag-work at tumulong sa family ko at maayos na ang buhay," Carlos said.
With the help of Filipino community groups, the University of Southern California, and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, Carlos and Josephine were approved for trafficking visas earlier this month.
Under a trafficking visa, both Carlos and Josephine, who still work as caregivers for now, will have a path to a green card, as well as the chance to petition their spouses and underage children.
While Adman is believed to be out of business after it faced civil and criminal lawsuits from other overseas Filipino workers for similar scenarios, Filipino activists said the problem will continue for as long as quality jobs and wages remain scarce in the Philippines and enforcement remains lax.
"There are so many of these fraudulent agencies that continue to come back and traffic more and more of our overseas Filipino workers and the Philippine government is either slow or really complacent in acting against these things. What we really want to see is real enforcement," said Alex Montances of the National Alliance of Filipino Concerns.
Carlos and Josephine said there were at least 10 more workers in their batch. However, they said some where afraid to come forward, while a few entered fixed marriages with US citizens.