She fiddles with her cell phone. In midconversation, she holds it out, showing off who’s on the screen.
"Here's my son," she says, pronouncing those three words in perfect English.
A wide-eyed toddler smiles, an oversized hat on his head. Mom leans over to see the photo herself, not able to pass up one more look.
Two and a half years after she was smuggled into America and then held hostage at a drop house where she was raped, forced to work for no pay and constantly abused, this young woman from Central America is transforming herself. So is her aunt.
They're human trafficking survivors, not victims. There's a difference.
Every day now is about hope and healing and grabbing hold of that American dream they chased through the Mexican desert.
Finally, they can see it.
"We thank God for this," the aunt says.
The day of the raid, the two women didn’t know what would happen to them.
Would they be deported? Treated as criminals?
Would anyone believe what they went through?
So many of the 60 immigrants who were crammed into that single family home in Southern California refused to talk. They didn’t trust law enforcement. Some just wanted to go home.
Because of that, three-fourths of the immigrants were sent back to their countries. It isn’t clear if they were deported or went back on their own.
The aunt says 16 cooperated, including her and her niece. They were certified as victims and received benefits available for those who suffer severe abuse by human traffickers.
They were given food, housing, clothing and work permits. Once they get a special visa for trafficking victims, they can stay in America for three years before they can apply for permanent residency.
The two women got their work permits six months ago and are now legally employed.
The day after the raid, they arrived at a shelter where workers seem just as invested in their future as the women. They got weekly therapy, job training and the chance to commiserate with other survivors.
It’s what the U.S. system designed to protect human trafficking victims is supposed to do: Identify the victims. Help them. Heal them.
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