by Don Tagala, ABS-CBN News
NEW YORK — Like most kababayans, Sally Agaton came to the US with only one thing in mind: to give her family back home of three kids a better life.
“Dahil sa hirap ng buhay sa Pilipinas, napilitan akong umalis para sa king pamilya, dahil kailangan kong itaguyod ang buhay namin gawa ng tatlo ang aking anak saka may sakit ang aking asawa,” said Agaton, a domestic worker.
In 2008, Agaton came to the US under an H2-b seasonal worker’s visa, as a housekeeper in Arizona.
She took a $3,000 dollar loan to pay for her airfare, immigration and placement fees, hoping she’ll be able to pay for all that.
“Sa una akala ko napakaganda ng buhay dahil siyempre pinangakuan ako ng agency ng 40 hours a week, $8 per hour pero hindi lahat yun ay natupad.”
Instead, she worked for not even half of what she was promised.
After taxes, rent, and her loan payment each month, she would only be left with $50 in her pocket.
Eventually, she overstayed her visa, and lost her husband too.
“Masakit sa akin yun kasi hindi ko nakita, hindi ko napagsilbihan man lang yung may sakit na asawa ko,” she said. “Gusto kong umuwi, gustong gutso kong umuwi pero wala akong magawa kasi wala akong.”
Agaton was a victim of labor trafficking.
Last year, there were over 400 known trafficking victims in the US, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
Riya Ortiz of Damayan Migrant Workers Association says that Filipinos are now the leading trafficking victims in the US.
30% of trafficking survivors who took part in the “Beyond the Survival Campaign” are Filipinos — a study conducted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance in 2016.
“Pilipinas nga yung number one source ng trafficking,” said Riya Ortiz, from the Damayan Migrant Workers Association. “It’s an epidemic. It’s a hidden epidemic.”
Through Damayan, Agaton found help in New York — thanks to a trafficking visa, she can now live and work legally in the US.
“Sa ngayon dahil natanggap ko na yung working visa ko, napakalaking bagay sa akin yung sa buhay ko yun ang pinapangarap natin eh yung makapagtrabaho tayo ng maayos at mabigyan natin ng magandang konabukasan yung ating mga anak,” she said.
While she can’t bring her older kids who have aged out — with the T-visa, Agaton is able to bring her youngest child to the US, who is expected to arrive in New York in May.