Monday, April 13, 2009

Trafficking victims try to remake lives

Trafficking victims try to remake lives
By MONICA RHOR Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
April 12, 2009, 8:45AM

HOUSTON — Like dozens of other workers from Vietnam and China, Tiep Ngo had been lured to the Daewoosa clothing factory in American Samoa by hollow promises of good pay. She left behind her child, her husband and her parents and paid $5,000 for her job contract only to be starved, beaten and cheated of wages.

For nearly two years, Ngo labored in the stifling, overcrowded factory, subsisting on meager portions of rice and cabbage and longing for her family. Then, through the efforts of Good Samaritans, federal agents and churches, Ngo and about 300 other workers were rescued and brought to the U.S. mainland, some of the first immigrants to receive special T-visas allowing human trafficking victims to remain in this country and eventually become permanent residents.

Bedraggled, emaciated and frightened, they arrived hopeful that their harrowing tale would soon have a happy ending.

That was in 2001.

In the eight years since, the Daewoosa survivors have put down roots in Vietnamese enclaves like Houston, Seattle and Orange County, Calif., buying houses, building businesses and sending children to college. But they're stuck in a legal limbo, still waiting for their long-promised green cards and often mistakenly denied public assistance, college financial aid and other benefits.

Their story highlights the barriers and breakthroughs experienced by human trafficking victims struggling to remake their lives in this country.

They want to leave the past behind, but still wrestle with its ghosts. They dream of reuniting with their families, but can wait years for that to happen. They are eager to embrace life here, but often find that path blocked by a tangle of confusing immigration laws.

"This is the part that should be easier, and it's not," said Diana Velardo, an immigration lawyer at the University of Houston and chairwoman of the Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

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