Filipino trafficking victims reunite with families in US

By Monette Rivera, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at Feb 12 2014 01:55 PM | Updated as of Feb 12 2014 09:55 PM

NEW YORK – Josie Gutierrez and Cecile Venzon left their families in the Philippines to chase their American dream. Now that promise of prosperity has turned into a nightmare.

They are also among the countless survivors of human and labor trafficking in the United States.

But thanks to the T visa, an immigration relief that allows certain victims of trafficking and immediate family members to remain and work in the US, they are now reunited with their loved ones.

"Pinakamasayang nanay sa buong mundo! Nakita ko na mga anak ko! Hindi na Facebook, personal na," Gutierrez said.

"Masaya po kami nakita ko na Mama ko so feeling blessed," said Gutierrez' son John Kenneth Nadua.

The journey to get to this joyful moment was not easy.

Venzon, who declined to name her alleged abusive diplomat employer, worked as a housekeeper in Englewood, N.J. in 2008.

She was promised a monthly rate of $1,600, but she said what she received was much less than that. She worked 17 hours a day with no overtime pay and no days off until she managed to escape her employer.

"Tandang-tanda ko nung inihatid ako. Pag lingon ko lahat sila nakatingin sa akin. Ang hirap. Pero yung paghihirap na yun, ito ngayon ang kapalit: Kaligayahan na," Venzon said.

While Gutierrez, a domestic helper, left her employer of more than seven years, said she was paid only $400 a month or 94 cents an hour.

"Yung pananakot nila sa akin na ide-deport nila ako, hindi ako pwedeng makipag-usap sa kapwa ko Pilipino, tapos ayaw nilang itaas sweldo ko dahil hindi naman daw ako nagbabayad ng tax at saka wala naman daw akong SS (social security). So wala raw akong karapatan humingi ng taas ng sahod," Gutierrez said.

"She was in a trafficking situation for a long time,” Terri Nilliasca, an attorney for Damayan Migrant Workers Association, said.

"The reason that happens a lot of times is that people don’t realize that the situation they're in. They know it’s terrible, but they don’t know where to go, how to get help, and sometimes they feel that they owe some kind of debt to their employer and so they don’t want to leave, they can’t leave."

Damayan Migrant Workers Association, who helped the Filipinas escape and turn their lives around for the better, are encouraging Filipinos in such trafficking situations to come forward and get help.

"This is one of the moments na talagang very proud and organization kasi ang family separation napakalaking isyu para sa mga migranteng kababaihang manggagawa. This is a very special day and we hope na mas marami pang kamukha nila ang mangyayari," Damayan community organizer Linda Oalican said.

Currently, Damayan is waiting for the Philippine consulate to sign the memorandum of understanding they sent last year that would give more protection for Filipino victims of human and labor trafficking.