There are an estimated 403,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in the United States (GSI 2018). The US attracts migrants and refugees who are particularly at risk of vulnerability to human trafficking. Trafficking victims often responding to fraudulent offers of employment in the US migrate willingly and are subsequently subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude in industries such as forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.
“Daniela” (not her real name) was trafficked to the US from Mexico. She was sold by her sister and “bought” by a US man who took her and her baby to Alaska. She told her story in 2012 while living at Las Memorias, the only residential free of charge programme for those living with HIV/AIDS in the city of Tijuana.
I was sold to a gentleman from the U.S. by my sister when I was 13 years old. I already had a baby. In the exchange, I was sold under the agreement that he would help me out with my kid because my baby was ill. I ended up being trafficked to Anchorage, Alaska. He basically kidnapped my baby away from me and didn’t allow me to see him. I was in prison, not able to see anyone for a long, long time. At that time, I was forced to have sex with men and women. Obviously, I was aware that my baby was not getting the care that we were promised. Our diet was basically rice and beans and nothing else. At the main market, at least in my case, I was 14, about to be 15, I was sold to have sex with other women.
So, unfortunately my baby’s condition got worse. He never allowed me to see my baby and my baby was never provided with the medical care he needed, even when he was in the process of dying, he never thought about providing care for my baby. My baby had leukaemia at the time, but of course I didn’t know that.
Probably because of my mothering instinct, one day I decided that I didn’t care what happened, I needed to take care of my baby. So I found a way to escape and to take my baby to a place in which I was pretty sure that he would get the care that he needed. But the problem was that I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know the area or the town or even where I was. And unfortunately my baby passed away.
When I ended up getting to a place, before my baby passed away, the people that received me didn’t want to take care of my baby. After the baby passed away, due to the lack of care, I noticed that I suddenly started receiving gifts. As I think about it now, I think they were probably trying to keep my mouth shut because they didn’t want me to denounce them or anything like that.
After my baby passed away, instead of burying him, they invited me to cremate my baby. It was a tough situation for me because I was only 15, so I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. After my baby was cremated, the only thing that I had to be in touch with what I felt was a part of me was the ashes. Unfortunately, he basically kidnapped the ashes and I was recaptured and put out to have sex once again. I used to cry, just asking him to allow me to touch the ashes of my baby, but he never allowed me to do that.
One time, after the cremation of my baby, I was forced to have sex with a woman and him, and he was so involved with what was happening that I was able to escape through a window. I was able to make contact with a policeman and they took me to a place where they used to take minors who are in trouble. Because I didn’t know any English, they kept asking me where I was from. They kept me in the shelter for minors for a few months.
I found out that the man who bought me was 33 years-old, that he had a criminal record as a sex offender, and had been involved with minors in the past. But he, as a predator, kept looking for me. After a few months in the care of the police department, I realized that I was once again pregnant.
He showed up, presenting himself as a relative. He promised me that he would be gentle with me if I came back to his place. Without the support of the police department, being 15, I didn’t have any option other than to believe in him again. At least during my pregnancy he was very loving. But, after the birth of my baby, as soon as my baby was born, he put me under the care of the immigration officers. He told them that I didn’t have the capacity to care for my baby and that my first baby had passed away because I physically abused him.
I was deported from Anchorage to Tijuana. Even under those conditions, I started working at a bar in Tijuana because I wanted to put some money together for airfare in order to go back to Alaska for my baby. And I ended up going back to Alaska. I was looking for my baby and then my abuser kept telling me not to leave him because he was finally in love with me. He was getting government support because he was a single father. He asked the government to facilitate the process of getting a house for the family in San Diego county. Two months after that, we got a house in San Diego and he moved himself to San Diego, but without me because I had to come back to Tijuana. He promised that he would bring my baby girl to Tijuana so I could see my daughter. But, if I wanted to see her, I had to pay him $100.
My pain and suffering was just too much, so I decided to give up and think that my baby was dead in the same way that I lost my first child. I decided to stay away from him. Even though being apart from him would hurt me a lot because of my child, I knew that it was the best thing that I could do for me and for her.
Narrative as told to Stephen Keating and the Centro Romero in Tijuana and translated from Spanish.