Why blog?

It's therapeutic... specially for dorks like me who communicate better when they have the chance to process their thoughts, select their words, and write precisely what they want to say. As much as I'm a "talker", I stumble, stutter, and don't always say things right. English as a second language might have something to do with that (unfortunately, I don't think I could blog in Spanish... I lost my grammar in that language). I like to pour out my thoughts and leave it out there in the cosmos (or the world wide web) for other people to mull over...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

True Story

Everything I have ever believed about faith, love, politics, etc... was flipped when I came across these people. I wanted to swallow every opinion I ever shared about immigration policies, "illegals", slavery in the US., and domestic abuse.

I challenge you to take the time to read through this real-life, happening NOW story.

I adapted A LOT to take out personal identifying information so all the names and dates you see are bogus (except for the year). So you can't "people-find" these people. But do not for one second think that any of this is fiction - because it's not! Then you can tell me what you think.

And feel free to offer prayer to this family now, because though you may not know who they are, God does...

Mrs. Susy Smith was born in the Philippines. Her father is deceased and her mother remains on the family rice farm with one of her brothers. This individual has Down’s syndrome and needs 24-hour care by the mother. She and her siblings were passed around among the homes of relatives, given their large number and the difficulty the family had in feeding all of the children. She was raised much of the time by her very conservative grandmother, with some time spent in the home of an aunt. When the fields would flood or a drought would occur, the family was particularly pressed to feed and clothe the children.

She attended the local school to the age of 16. However, as this did not prepare her for a vocation, her family was able to send her to College. She completed a one-year secretarial course and graduated with a clerical certificate. Given the size of her family of origin, she had to support herself and moved, finding a job as a sales clerk and living in her aunt’s house in that city. She held that job until the age of 35, when she came to the United States, having met Joe Johnson three years prior. This individual is a citizen of the United States.

Ms. Smith described loving her job. She is from a conservative family and did not date. She had friends at work, but stayed home on her days off. Her one male childhood friend had remained in their small town and married. They had not actually dated, but that had been the closest she had come to having a “boyfriend”, as dating is not a common practice in her culture. Marriages continue to be arranged. Her sister married her only “boyfriend” when she was in her early 20’s. Ms. Smith had felt good about her ability to relieve the family’s burden by being financially independent, though relying on her aunt for housing.

Ms. Smith stated that she had always expected, and hoped to, marry and have a family. At the age of 31, she was aware that her chances of being married were slim, particularly in her culture. However, a friend from the vocational program, Nikky Johnson, also a U.S. citizen, suggested that Ms. Smith meet Nikky’s “ex-husband”. Nikky made it clear to Ms. Smith that she and Joe were divorced and she only wished for her “ex-husband” to have someone special in his life. She described the two of them as “friends” and that she worried about him being alone. She emphasized that Joe was a good person and might be a good match for Susy.

As it was unlikely that Susy would meet anyone without an introduction, she took a chance and agreed to meet Joe Johnson in January of 2002. He and Nikky still shared a house in Manila, along with his brothers, nieces and nephews. Susy did not find this odd, as the practice of sharing housing is common in an economy where housing is at a premium with extended families under the same roof as the norm. She went to their house and sat and talked with Joe for approximately an hour. He also explained that he and Nikky were divorced, but had no hurt feelings between them, remaining friends. At the end of the hour, he told her that he was very attracted to her, adding that he thought he was falling in love with her. She stated that it made her feel good to hear those words, given that she had never heard them before in her 31 years. She asked him why he felt he was falling in love with her and he responded that he loved her “smiling face”. However, she did not want to rush into things, as he seemed to want to do. She asked him to be sure, though trusted that he was telling the truth. She asked for more time and he agreed.

They met for a date the following week, having lunch in a tourist area. They spent the day together. Toward the end of that day, he proposed to her. She told him that she needed time to think, as “marriage is for life”. When asked about considering marriage with someone with whom she was barely acquainted, she stated that, in her culture, it is not uncommon for couples to meet and marry within weeks, with and without matchmaking on the part of the family. She did not ask her family about the idea of marrying, feeling that she had to decide. However, she did ask a friend, who told her, “if he’s sincere, why not?” Once more, she asked him to give her a little time to think about the proposal.

Joe was due to leave for the United States in February of 2002, about two weeks after their day together. He sent her text messages several times a day during those two weeks, asking her to consider marrying him and invited her to his house once more. She told him before he left that she would marry him and asked him to “promise me to be honest and faithful to me”, which he did. She stated that she “was not in love with him like a schoolgirl would be”, but did believe he was sincere and believed that they could build a good life together, have children, and that love would grow. She was aware that he was leaving for the United States and they would marry later, with her eventual move to the United States. She described herself as “nervous, happy” at the prospect of eventually leaving her home and moving to a different country.

Joe left for the United States, along with Nikky, who was also returning to Alaska to work in the fisheries. Susy was aware that he would be traveling back and forth between the U.S. and the Philippines, returning between work seasons. He told her that she would also be able to obtain work in the fish cannery.

For the next three years, Joe remained in Alaska, working in the canneries and sending her text messages, letters and calling her regularly, assuring her that all would work out and he would earn the money to bring her over. When he stated that he had been able to do that, he filed for a fiancé petition and she came to the United States. They had been engaged for three years at that time. What she did not know, until recently, was that Joe and Nikky did not file for divorce until 2004, after he had been engaged to Susy for almost two years.

Joe sent Susy a one-way ticket. She arrived without money of her own, as she had nothing to spare. She described her feelings as “excited and nervous”. She was met by both Joe and Nikky. They had a friend, Linda, who lived in Seattle, and provided transportation to and from the airport and all three of them stayed at this individual’s house that first night. Susy was given a bedroom of her own. However, she described Joe coming to her room that evening and attempting to have sex with her. She kept telling him to leave her alone, but he continued to press himself on her, removing her clothes and his own. It was dark and she could not see his face, but she continued to struggle and tell him that she could not have sex with someone prior to marriage. She said that she wanted to “shout, scream”, but was aware of being a stranger in someone else’s house. He lied to her, telling that she would be undergoing a physical examination the next day by the “authorities” and that they would be very suspicious of her were they to find that she was still a virgin. She questioned this and continued to fight him off. She said that he very nearly did rape her, but finally stopped and left. She continued to cry and shake after he left, trying to think how she might get away. However, he had provided her with a one-way ticket and she had no money of her own to buy a return ticket, and knew that she did not have the option to leave and had no one to ask for help.

The following morning, Joe apologized, telling her that he was so in love with her and had missed her so badly, that he had lost control of his emotions. Susy did not ask him about the supposed exam, as Nikky was present when he apologized to her. He told her that Reno would be a beautiful place for them to marry, a nice place to visit. They shared one hotel room in Reno, reportedly due to short funds. There were two beds in the room, and Joe offered to sleep on the floor while she and Nikky took the beds. She said that Nikky offered to have him share her bed and put up a barrier or pillows between them to assure everyone would be comfortable with the arrangement. She and Joe married the next day. She stated that she remembers questioning the idea of marrying him as they waited in the chapel, wondering if he really loved her. She said he had promised to never try to force himself on her again and assured her that he did. After the service, the three of them took a flight that same day to Alaska. She said that she had expected to stay in Reno and spend time with Joe, but did not question his plans to return to Alaska so quickly.

Upon arrival in Alaska, they went to Joe’s home, an average sized trailer with temporary dividers that created extra bedrooms for extended family who also worked at the fisheries, three of Joe’s brothers and one sister-in-law. She stated that it is not an uncommon practice for Filipino families to travel the Alaska to work the fisheries, sharing housing to save money. What was startling to her was to discover that Joe and Nikky shared a bedroom in the trailer and that she was given a small petitioned room and introduced to his family members as a “cousin”. She described sitting in her small room, asking him why they were not sharing a room together as husband and wife, and why he was sharing with Nikky, from whom was divorced. She said that they talked to her a bit, but did not relent and she continued to cry through the night. However, there was no privacy, with mere petitions to block the view, but not sound, and she did not dare to allow her crying to be heard by others. She was warned by both of them not to tell the relatives, or anyone, of the marriage. She decided that night to find a way to return to the Philippines. Within the next two days, they took her passport from her “for safe keeping” and would not return it. When she asked for its return, Joe and Nikky told her that she would have to earn her way back to the Philippines and made it clear that they would not help her with that.

From this point onward, what Susy described was being enslaved by Joe and Nikky, deprived of her earnings, passport, freedom, and the permission to make friends, talk to anyone without being interrogated, use the telephone, or contact her family, isolated within her own small home, and threatened with police and prison for being in the United States illegally. Her husband did have her sign paperwork to obtain a green card, but then refused to allow her to go to the needed interview, to “protect” her from “imprisonment”. She begged Joe to let her go home, but he found her a job and made her go to work instead, “to earn her way”.

She began working after having spent the two weeks prior, holed up in her room in the trailer, crying. They censored her mail, opening and reading it before she was allowed to see it. They kept the phone in their room, with a recorder that would allow them to know if she used the phone and who she called and what she said. She was not allowed to obtain a post office box. Joe opened a joint bank account, saying that immigration law required that they share the account. She was not given access to this account. She was not allowed to wear a wedding ring. She described those two weeks as horrible. She slept very little, taking short naps. She had frequent bad dreams. She found herself, when awake, to be trembling, distracted, “mind empty”, numb, afraid, frightened. She didn’t dare go out on her own, as Joe and Nikky had told her that immigration authorities walked the streets and she would be stopped and asked for identification.

She stated that Joe kept possession of her passport, bringing it to the office when he signed her up for work, but refusing to give the passport to her. She welcomed beginning to work, as it kept her occupied during the long days. She stated that she would volunteer for extra work, doing cleanup after her shift, to keep from going home sooner than she had to. When she worked beyond her shift, she was interrogated by Joe and Nikky as to what she was doing, who she had talked to, where she had been and she had to continuously convince them that she had simply worked over. During their shared shift hours, they watched her, questioning if she talked to anyone about the content and her intentions in having conversations with others. Her current husband described noticing this harassment and stated that it was clear to other workers, but Susy did not dare complain. The work was cold, the fish heavy to lift. She said that she lost her appetite, but made herself eat, as she wanted to “stay strong” in order to work and earn a ticket back to the Philippines.

After a couple of months, the three of them moved over to a different job for the chance to work longer hours and make more money. This time, Nikky accompanied her to sign her up for work, bringing Susy’s passport and refusing to allow her to handle it. Susy stated that she was earning minimum wage, $7.15 per hour. The hours varied by the availability of the catch. She stated that she earned between $300 and $500 dollars every two weeks, depending upon how much overtime she could manage to obtain. She was told by Joe and Nikky that she must give them half of her wages, earnings she never saw anyway, as it was directly deposited into the joint account, which she could not access. She initially thought they were saving this money for a one-way ticket for her return home. Between late April and June, she estimated that they had taken over $4,000 for this ticket and, as she believed it should cost between $1,000 and $2,000, she asked them in June when she would get the ticket. At that point, they informed her that she was “repaying” them for expenses to bring her to the United States, the cost of the hotel in Reno and the train and bus travel. They gave her an itemized list, which included things such as Xerox fees and the cost of a lip gloss that Nikky had offered to Susy at some point during the prior few weeks. They also explained that this money was to cover her expenses within the household as she had to “pull her weight”. In addition to this unexpected “bill”, she was informed by Joe that she owed them an additional total of $30,000 for “bringing you to the United States”. He did not offer an explanation of this sum. She continued to ask about a ticket and was told that she would not be given her passport until she paid them in full. She was aware of being inextricably trapped and dependent. She continued to cry nightly, attempting to stifle her sounds from others in the trailer, with frequent nightmares. She made an effort not to cry at work, plunging herself into whatever jobs she was given and asked for. When she was not able to distract herself with work, she experienced panic symptoms. She would try to move around to shake these sensations, opening a window or stepping outside. This was a daily experience, several times a day during the period of time following her realization that she had been imprisoned by Joe and Nikky and had not power to extricate herself that she was aware of.

Joe unexpectedly returned to the Philippines in October of 2005, without warning to Susy. He did not inform her as to when he would be returning. Nikky returned to the Philippines in January of 2006, also without warning. During their absence, in January, 2006, one of his brothers gave her a piece of mail in her name which indicated that there was an immigration hearing scheduled for February, 2006. As neither of them had been there to censure her mail, she accidentally learned of this hearing. However, Joe discovered that she knew of the hearing and sent word that it was cancelled and she should continue to work toward earning her ticket home. She was working seven days a week and welcomed the distraction. Her panic attacks were a common occurrence, and she was no longer surprised by the physical sensations of racing heart beat, a sense of “choking”, trying to catch her breath, sweating and muscle tension, chest discomfort, nausea and vomiting. She continued to have no appetite and poor sleep, but told herself she had to keep eating so that she could work and get home.

Surprisingly, Joe told Susy, upon his return from the Philippines in the spring of 2006, that he wanted to divorce her and “find someone better”. However, she still did not have her passport and she still did not have access to her earnings. They continued to take half of her salary off the top to “repay” them, while she felt she had a good chance that Joe would now buy a ticket to send her back home, given that they were no longer married. However, they continued to put her off, claiming that she had to repay them. She was actually in greater fear of being arrested, now that the divorce was finalized, as the authorities would surely arrest her, given that she had no legal status in the United States. Nothing had changed with the divorce. It had only served to heighten the threats that she would be imprisoned.

After the divorce, work continued to be anything but a haven. Upon Joe and Nikky’s return, they continued to harass her at work. They would pull her off the line to question her when they noticed that she had spoken to a co-worker. She did not dare have lunch with anyone, or carry on a full conversation, as each contact brought interrogation. Speaking with other Filipinos was particularly forbidden. Nikky played the major role in monitoring her at work and eventually the harassment finally came to the attention of a supervisor in July of 2006. Susy was called to her office and she finally broke down and told the supervisor about her entrapment, that Joe and Nikky held her passport, and about the threats and harassment. This supervisor directed Joe and Nikky to bring Susy her passport, and they did leave at lunch and return with it, by report. However, they had removed her K-1 admission card that had been stapled into the passport upon her arrival into the United States.

Her status did not change at home, despite the discovery of the entrapment and theft of her earnings. However, her plight began to be discussed among other employees, including her current husband, Bob Smith. This individual described having first noticed Susy during the summer of 2005. He had known her as the cousin of Joe and Nikky, as that was the cover story she was forced to give. He had observed her as someone who worked hard, took on extra work, and was conscientious. He stated that she was given overtime that others wanted, due to her work ethic. This brought on more jealousy and harassment on the part of Joe and Nikky, as Susy was given extra work that they wanted for themselves. She was respected by management and has been asked to be a team leader, but she could not accept that, as Joe and Nikky would not have allowed it.

Bob is a welder, so they did not work side by side. However, he said that he would always say “hi” to Susy and thought of her as very shy. He also noticed Joe and Nikky pulling her off the line, talking to her, and wondered about that. He began to weld her small gifts, believing that she was single, unattached. However, she could not respond, as that would have brought further harassment by Joe and Nikky.

After the Human Resource manager questioned Susy and discovered that she was being used by Joe and Nikky, the employees began to talk among themselves and he discovered the situation in which she had been held for over a year. She had broken down and spoke to a few co-workers in her native language about what she had been through and he also heard that information. The day that Joe and Nikky were forced to return her passport, though minus the admission card, they threatened her with calling the police to have her arrested. Bob told her to let them call the police, as they had no right to keep her imprisoned. He began to talk to her, offering his support, letting her know that he was there to help her. However, by that point, she said that she wanted to leave as soon as possible, and had no interest in another man. She did like him, however, and appreciated his help and kindness. He offered to follow her to the Philippines and marry her there if that is what she wished, but she continued to focus on simply leaving as soon as she could get a ticket.

Susy stated that she had hit bottom and asked God for a sign; a white flower. The day prior to the return of her passport, Bob sent her a dozen red roses at work. Despite the fact that her enslavement came to light in early July, Susy had to continue to return to Joe and Nikky’s trailer at night for a place to stay. She continued to cry, unable to sleep, forcing herself to eat, as she was still as stuck as she had been, as the disclosure had brought no practical relief. When she took the flowers home, she covered them with a black plastic bag to hide them from Joe and Nikky, but as she had no privacy, they quickly discovered these. She was again accosted by these two, interrogated about her “boyfriend” and her “deception”. They harassed her for much of that night, until 2:00 or 3:00 that next morning, while she denied having a boyfriend. She stated that she noticed that she had a fever and felt cold and sick. She was then accused of “acting sick”. At work, a friend gave her a jacket, due to her chills. Nikky followed her around the plan that day, questioning her, including following her outside on breaks. She did not sleep the following night either. She lay in a panic, nauseous, trembling, short of breath, unable to calm her heart beat, sweating, afraid.

Susy stated she simply couldn’t take any further abuse. She made the move to risk asking a co-worker for help, an acquaintance. She did not know if this individual would help her or if she was risking arrest and imprisonment, but made the choice to try. This woman accompanied her to the trailer after work and helped her gather her few belongings, while Joe and Nikky yelled at her and again threatened her with the “authorities”. Her co-worker and her husband then took Susy into her home. Bob visited her there and convinced her that he wanted to marry her and take care of her. He stated that he was aware of the language and culture barrier. He urged her that he was sincere and she deserved decent treatment. He respected how she had carried herself, her reputation among the other workers, her kindness and smile. She said that she had prayed for someone to love her. She agreed and remained in that home until their marriage, obtained an apartment, invited guests and friends and had a reception at a restaurant. She became pregnant four months later.

When the planned wedding was announced, Joe and Nikky continuously approached her at work, telling her she was “too old”, would never have a child, that she was “stupid”, and that the “marriage won’t work”. They continued to harass her after the marriage, telling her that she would be discovered by the authorities, and if she had a baby, that it would be taken from her. They began to send letters to her job, accusing her of being illegal and urging the company to investigate her. The company has ignored them.

Given that her paperwork has expired, and she is unable to work, Susy has spent her time volunteering, as she continues to experience panic when she is at rest. The same symptoms return when she is harassed by Joe and Nikky, as this has continued. She volunteers at Salvation Army. Joe and Nikky reportedly called that thrift store in an attempt to get her “fired”, but as she is a volunteer only, they were not successful.

Susy was fearful throughout her pregnancy and worried about losing the baby. She was told by her doctor that there was a possibility that her baby would be born with Downs’ Syndrome, given her age at the time and the fact that this was her first pregnancy. Given that her brother has Down’s Syndrome, she was aware of what that could mean. However, she said that she believed that she was healthy enough, if she was left alone to focus on her pregnancy. Bob reported that she would be tearful, panicked and frightened with each instance of harassment by Joe and Nikky, and he would try to calm her down. Bob stated that he was concerned enough about her mental and physical health, in reaction to the harassment, that he confronted the two of them at work, for which he was reprimanded. He was escorted out of the plant. However, the major harassment slowed after that, as Joe and Nikky stood to lose their own jobs, by report.

Her baby was born August, 2007. Bob stated that he tried to file paperwork after it was discovered that Joe had allowed her paperwork to expire. He borrowed money and hired a California attorney to look into the matter for them. Some months later, they were handed an immigration letter by Joe’s brother, a piece of mail that had arrived in Susy’s name and which he passed on, since Joe was not in the home at the time. A special agent called her in January of 2008 and she experienced another panic attack, trying to hear what the agent was asking her and answering the questions. She described being “confused”, “shaking and trembling”, “heart pounding”, “sweating”, “trying to catch my breath”. She asked the agent to call back after her husband was home. After the call, she continued to feel these sensations and was fearful until Bob arrived home.

The agent asked Susy if she had overstayed her visa and she said that she had, but that the lawyer was handling the case for them. Per Bob, that agent stated that she wanted to consult with her own supervisor, given the extreme, and possibly, criminal behavior on the part of Joe and Nikky. When they contacted their attorney, he reportedly told them that he would need $43,000 before he would be able to come to Alaska to attend their court date. Bob and Susy could not afford that and attended the Anchorage hearing on their own.

Susy stated that she sat at a table, by herself, and was questioned via teleconference at the hearing without an attorney. She described feeling the same panic symptoms coming on, but worked to fight them off. She said that she felt “nervous” and noticed, again, that her heart was pounding, she felt dizzy, and her breathing was stilted. She was repeatedly told to “speak up”. Apparently there was an interpreter present who became annoyed with her inability to respond and who “yelled” at her until the Judge told him to stop. She was asked at the hearing if she had overstayed her visa and suggested she obtain a lawyer. The hearing was delayed to 2010. When they returned to their hotel room, she began crying, felt scared, tense, with tremors, palms sweating and laid down with a headache. The couple contacted another attorney to represent them, again borrowing money for this second attorney. They were told to show up for the March hearing or she would risk deportation. They did not know what the hearing would involve.

Susy stated that she has been “trying to keep my feelings hidden”, as she worries about her husband, herself and the impact upon her daughter. Her sleep is poor and appetite is decreased. She prays for a good outcome.

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