Mei’s family is very poor. They told Mei that she could “help” to pay back the money by working off the debt in the U.S. In other words, it appears that Mei-a child with no skills and no English ability-was sent to the U.S. for forced labor.
Mei was stopped by U.S. government officials upon entering the U.S. Thus, she could not be delivered to the snakeheads to earn back the money her parents owed. She had no identification documents when she arrived. She did not speak any English.
Mei was placed in a facility for unaccompanied children operated by a department within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and was later placed with a foster family. When Mei was referred to KIND, she wouldn’t say much about what happened to her. She was scared for her family and herself, she said later. The snakeheads threatened to kill Mei’s family if she cooperated with U.S. authorities or her lawyers.
Mei only began opening up once she started to trust those around her. KIND found her a pro bono attorney who speaks Mandarin. Mei explained that her parents were pressuring her to make her way to a purported “aunt” who lived in another state. Mei did not know the aunt, and she expressed concern about leaving her foster family. When Mei’s attorney contacted the “aunt” to get more information, he found her unable to provide correct information about Mei and her family.