Tahirih Justice Center – Protecting Immigrant Women
– By Mitzi Perdue
Human exploitation takes many forms, but all of them have one thing in common: exploiters prey on the vulnerable. The Tahirih Justice center focuses on helping a particularly vulnerable group, immigrant women and girls.
Tahirih has an impressive record of helping this group. Beginning in 1997, Tahirih has served more than 25,000 individuals who’ve fled trafficking and violence.
A senior staff attorney with Tahirih, Leah Chen Price, has an example of the kind situation Tahirih deals with. Anna Santos is not the real name of the woman we’ll be talking about, but the details are entirely real.
Anna Santos and Her “Dream” Job
Santos grew up in the Philippines, and in her early twenties, she was a caregiver for a well-to-do woman in Manila. One day her employer told her about what seemed like a dream job. Santos’s employer had a daughter in Burlingame, California, who wanted Santos to take care of her young family.
The pay was impressive compared to what Santos was earning in the Philippines, and Santos liked the idea of travel to America, all expenses paid. Unfortunately, this would mean being away from her own two young children.
However, the pay was so good that Anna felt it would be great to work there for six months, make some money to support her family, and then return home to the Philippines.
The dream job turned out to be a dream job, but it was a dream of the nightmare variety. Her job included having to get up at 4:00 am to clean, cook, do laundry, and take care of five people and 10 dogs.
And her living quarters? Her employers made her live in a garden shack with no heat or electricity. They denied her medical care, demeaning her at every step, treating her like a domestic animal. She was living in modern day slavery.
As she froze in her garden shack with only a thin blanket for warmth, can you imagine how much she must have missed her children and her country?
Why Didn’t She Escape?
There were several reasons Santos didn’t escape. For starters, her employer would lock her in the house so she couldn’t. But in addition, her employers also threatened her with the police. “You’re here illegally,” they’d point out. “We’ll have you thrown in jail!” And of course they carefully nurtured in her a terror of all law enforcement.
Incredibly, this went on for 15 years. Eventually, a Good Samaritan from the family’s church learned of Anna’s plight and helped her escape. After she left the house, Anna was put in touch with various social service organizations that work with survivors of human trafficking, and ultimately the Tahirih Justice Center who assisted her with her immigration status.
Anna Santos’s life is now entirely different. “We’ve supported her as she has stabilized herself financially, physically, and psychologically,” says Price. “Her life is now her own again. She has taken advantage of employment development assistance, mental health counseling, case management support, and she is now living on her own supporting herself.”
Possibly best of all, Santos not only got her own immigration papers, Tahirih’s attorney’s helped her reunite with her own children. They arranged to bring Santos’s children to this country on visas designated for family members of victims of human trafficking.
The Problem Exists Everywhere
Price points out that although Santos comes from the Philippines, she could have come from almost any country. Tahirih deals with hundreds of cases of modern-day slavery and the victims come from every corner of the globe.
Price emphasizes that, “Human exploitation like this takes place in every city, and in every industry, whether construction, restaurants, massage parlors, child care, –any low wage job is ripe for it.”
Price loves her work. “I feel so lucky to do this job. At times I don’t know how people find such an incredible amount of strength as they transform from victim to survivor. It’s an inspiration to work with people who have found so much strength and courage in spite of so much suffering.”
Tahirih Justice Center stands alone as the only national, multi-city organization providing a broad range of direct legal services, policy advocacy, and training and education to protect immigrant women and girls fleeing gender-based violence.
To make a donation, go to https://www.tahirih.org or call Leah Chen Price at 650 270 2102.
About The Author
Mitzi Perdue is a businesswoman, author, and Founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master’s from George Washington University. She’s a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women, and she was a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi. She was also a Commissioner for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Her Scripps Howard column, The Environment and You, was for years the most widely syndicated environmental column in the U.S.
She is the founder and president of “Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking Now,” an organization that raises funds and awareness for other anti-trafficking initiatives.