MCAH and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, March 21 on the basics of immigration policy, and what issues agencies should be aware when working with this extremely vulnerable population. Register online and click here for a guide of organizations across the state working on immigration rights.
Agriculture is predominant in our small rural community. Like most agricultural communities, we benefit from the migrant families who work the fields. While many migrant families return season after season, many also settle and find their home here. When I met Margaret*, she had traveled across the country after hearing she could find work on one of the farms. Upon her arrival with her three children she discovered that the migrant camp had been closed and she had nowhere to live with her children. She bought a tent where she and her children lived until the arrival of her husband.
Life got better when he arrived. They rented a trailer and commenced with their lives – until they needed a new furnace. The landlord refused. Their savings went to purchase a new furnace, but they never missed a rent payment nor were they compensated for the furnace. Numerous other issues surfaced but each was met with refusals, threats and the ultimate threat – “I will get you deported and you will never see your children again.” In addition to living with this fear, they lived in suboptimal conditions: the septic system was never emptied, only certain lights could be turned on for fear of blowing fuses, and the trailer was not fit for human habitation. But they were the fortunate ones, they had a roof over their heads.
The stories of dire living conditions are many, while affordable and decent housing is non-existent. The threat of deportation is real and used as emotional torture. We know these stories. But, even in our small rural communities, we need to recognize that threats don’t stop here. The fear of deportation is also used as leverage to perpetuate sex trafficking.
We often hear of savvy pimps in big cities that brainwash young girls and feed them drugs to create dependence. But sex trafficking can be as simple as threatening the loss of a home or deportation. Women and girls are transported from their homes to a larger nearby city and sold to local men to be raped. Then they are returned home to go back to being wives and mothers, until the next time and the next time.
Knowledge alone is not sufficient to put an end to this revolting behavior. The fear is real and the threats are easily carried out. Compound that with the fact that these women cannot report either the pimps or the rapists for fear of losing their home or being deported, and it is nearly impossible to save them. Success stories are few and far between. Sex-trafficking laws are changing dramatically. Immigration laws are in turmoil. Affordable and safe housing is in the distant future. Their hope lies in us.
The fight for legislation that significantly punishes those who sell another human being must continue. The fight to punish those who purchase another human being with the intent to rape must continue. Laws to protect those who are being sold into slavery must protect everyone. Assumptions about trafficked victims must be replaced with education.
Slowly the law is changing to acknowledge the fact that a child prostitute is not a criminal, nor is she a prostitute – she is a victim. In 2016 the number of reported sex trafficked victims in Michigan was 191. The average age of a trafficked female is 12. It does not happen everywhere except here. It happens everywhere – even where you are. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise, second only to drugs.
To learn more visit: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/state/michigan.
*Margaret’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
Guest post by Theresa M. Bray, CEO/Executive Director of the Allegan County Community Foundation. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.