ICE Detained A Human Trafficking Victim Because Her U.S. Visa Expired & She Could Be Deported
Undocumented immigrants living in the United States are already some of the most vulnerable, underserved, and at-risk people in American life, and a story in the Miami Herald this week hammered home the extent of the instability and risks that come with their situation. According to the report, an immigrant who was a human trafficking victim has been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because her U.S. visa was expired.
The woman, who the report only names as "Ana" ― an alias used for her and her family's protection, not her real name ― has reportedly been held under ICE custody for the past four months. And she is being detained despite the fact that according to the Herald's reporting, the U.S. Department of Labor considers her to have suffered "a severe form of human trafficking." Nonetheless, after she fled the upscale Miami home where she worked long 13-hour days for paltry wages (about $3 per hour, according to the Herald), she was picked up and detained by ICE, and now faces the prospect of deportation.
In a conversation with the paper, Ana referred to her current situation as "the worst thing that ever happened to me." Her children are still living in her native Colombia, and she's reportedly in the process of applying for a visa as a human trafficking victim.
Brian Pacheco, director of communications for the victim services non-profit Safe Horizon, tells Bustle in a statement that the Trump administration appears to be taking a more aggressive posture towards undocumented victims of human trafficking. Pacheco says that the crackdown on undocumented immigrants could lead to victims like Ana to stay in bad situations:
The less that victims of crime, and their families and children, feel that they can safely engage with our systems, the more likely they are to remain in unsafe and harmful environments, fearing what might happen if they come forward. This makes all of our communities and members less safe.
While Ana's precise story may be unique, she is far from alone in finding herself detained and facing deportation by ICE. The first year of the Trump administration has seen a nationwide increase in the agency's arrests, and that's precisely what many pro-immigration advocates and activists anticipated when he won the presidential election last year.
"Unfortunately, abusers and traffickers have used the criminal justice system as a tool for further abuse by stating false claims or accusations against their victim," Pacheco adds. "A possible trafficking victim can be detained while their case is being processed before they are determined to be a victim."
Pacheco also warns against the "more aggressive approach towards immigration enforcement" under the current administration, pointing to the undocumented 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who was detained by ICE after she went to the hospital for critical gallbladder surgery. "These stories are disheartening and can create a culture of silence and fear amongst immigrants who are already some of our most vulnerable in need of support," he adds.
Trump campaigned very explicitly on cracking down on immigrants, launching his political career with an inflammatory speech which broad-brushed Mexican immigrants as criminals and "rapists." Although his precise proposals on immigration varied wildly throughout the campaign, changing from calls to deport all undocumented immigrants, to merely ones with criminal records, it's very clear that ICE has ramped up its raids and operations since he entered office.
That's not to say the previous administration behaved particularly kindly towards undocumented immigrants, however. To the contrary, over eight years, the Obama administration oversaw more deportations than any previous administration in American history. In fact, while ICE arrests have increased under Trump, fewer people are actually being deported ― so far, at least ― than were under Obama.