NEWARK-Through the work of the Archdiocese of Newark's Catholic Charities' Refugee Resettlement and Human Trafficking programs, a former trafficking victim was reunited with her nine-year-old son on July 26 at Newark Liberty International Airport after more than four years of forced separation.
Inspired by this reunion, officials at Catholic Charities are hoping they will be able to report more happy endings in the near future. The group is involved in seven active cases of trafficking victims waiting to be reunited with their children.
Two years ago Lucy Magambi told her harrowing story to The Catholic Advocate (see the Nov. 23, 2005 edition), speaking under the alias "Mary." She came to America in 2003 from Kenya to work for a family in Bergen County as a housekeeper and nanny. She left her young son Brian behind with the hopes of making a new life for them in the United States.
"They were going to pay me $200 a month. I thought I was going to be rich," she recalled.
However, Magambi was pressed to work tirelessly for little pay, forced into seclusion and was physically assaulted. Two years ago, Catholic Charities arranged for her rescue.
Magambi was trapped in the web of human trafficking, a shadowy crime defined as obtaining commercial labor from a person using force, fear or coercion. Those coerced into working against their will typically are immigrants from Latin America, Africa and South Asia who fear of being deported. Victims suffer through a lonely, dark, brutal world intimidated by cruel traffickers and virtually cut off from society.
Catholic Charities works to uncover these cases, providing victims with food, shelter, access to healthcare, job placement and legal services. The organization also helps human trafficking victims obtain a T-Visa, which allows them to stay in the United States.
After earning her T-Visa, Magambi anxiously awaited her son's arrival. Now married with an eight-month-old daughter, her whole family is complete and looking forward to a new life in New Jersey.
Debbie Marulanda, the director of Catholic Charities' Refugee Resettlement Program, along with other Catholic Charity workers, was present for the emotional reunion of Magambi and her son. "It is rare that the horror story of human trafficking has a happy ending," Marulanda said. "No words can truly express how touching that moment (at the airport) was. I was the first person to recognize Brian."
There are currently seven cases at Catholic Charities of trafficking victims waiting to be reunited with their children. All of these victims are women are from Central America (Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala), waiting for T-Visas.
"Immigration Services is working hard for these victims and with pressure from the Department of Health and Human Services, getting a T-Visa is taking less time. Now it takes about a year," Marulanda said.
The Catholic Charities' Refugee Resettlement Program is serving 10 new cases from January 2007 and 48 old cases from 2006. Meanwhile, the group's Human Trafficking Program is serving 11 new cases from January 2007 and 25 old cases that date back to 2006. Most of the trafficking victims are females from a prostitution raid that took place in Union City in May of 2006.
"Most of these women came to this country through the border and were forced into prostitution," Marulanda explained. "Some of them were forced to have abortions and they were constantly humiliated. The worst part is that they had no one to turn to in America-no one to listen to them, no shoulder to cry on. They felt like they were abandoned."
Today, these women have found jobs and Catholic Charities is helping them restart their lives. The victims' traffickers pled guilt and will soon be sentenced for their crimes. Catholic Charities staff members held a picnic for these victims on July 14 as a way to celebrate how far they have come in realizing their dreams.
"I admire these women. They went through such a difficult situation and they are working hard to repair their lives from nothing to something," Marulanda said. "At the picnic, they were laughing, sharing their stories and catching up because the last time they saw each other was at the raid. I am confident that these women will be able to get their lives together," Marulanda explained.
Magambi is settling in with her son and is grateful for what Catholic Charities has done for her. "It was so nice to see him again," she said.
"I was so excited and speechless. I have a new family now. To my surprise, Brian is adjusting quite well; he's in summer camp. He loves his sister Allison very much."
Anyone with information about suspected human trafficking is encouraged to call Catholic Charities' human trafficking hotline at (866) 999-9007.