Mei from China

November 1, 2011

Escaping the Traffickers' Grasp

Mei From China

Mei* is a young girl from China. Because of the sensitivity of her case, not many personal details can be shared, but it is likely that she was trafficked from China. There is evidence that the girl’s parents agreed to pay “snakeheads,” or human traffickers, almost $100,000 to have her brought to the United States.

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.

Mei only began opening up once she started to trust those around her. KIND found her a pro bono attorney who speaks Mandarin.

Mei became very frightened when a stranger claiming to be her lawyer attempted to make an appearance on her behalf in an immigration proceeding. Mei didn’t know who this person was. She did not know who hired him. Based on information gleaned from monitored phone calls between Mei and her family, officials at the shelter came to suspect that Mei’s traffickers had hired this lawyer in an attempt to recover Mei. Mei still fears that the snakeheads will capture and sell or otherwise use her to recoup her family’s debt, if they can find her. Mei’s case is now being handled by a well-respected law firm. And, her situation has improved considerably. Mei obtained special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS), which allows her to remain legally in the United States and makes her eligible for lawful permanent residency. In addition, Mei has been admitted to the U.S. government’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) program. This program provides additional benefits to refugee children and victims of child trafficking. Mei will now receive federal benefits through age 21 and is eligible for a variety of educational and psychological support services meant to ease her transition into life in the United States.

Mei is going to a local high school and is learning to speak English. She is very happy with her foster family. According to one of her lawyers, Mei’s stress and fear have begun to subside. She is happy at school.

“I am very proud of the results that we’ve obtained so far,” the attorney said. “I believe that KIND’s efforts literally have saved a life in this case.”

*Name of child changed to protect her identity.