HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIM FIGHTS FOR CHANGE

Feb 21, 2013

By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

SAN FRANCISCO – When Harold Butanas was hired as a welder by a staffing agency in Alabama in 2007, he had high hopes moving to America.

After all, he was promised a 3-year contract, with a $24 an hour salary.

But when he arrived in the U.S., reality set in. He was only paid $15 an hour. And he and other immigrant workers were made to work 80 hours a week – so each of them could pay $16,000 in recruitment fees.

When they had settled their debt with their agency a few months later, he said his company suddenly laid them off, leaving them jobless, homeless and without legal status in America.

He said, “We felt hopeless that we would not be able to fulfill our dreams here in America. We did not know where to go, where to ask for help.”

Butanas moved to California and became a caregiver of seniors. He would soon be abused by his employer, who did not pay him decent wages.

He said, “It felt like no one could give me a job here in the U.S. where I could be treated well as a worker.”

Butanas sought help at the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco. He now has a pending T-Visa application, a type of visa that allows certain victims of human trafficking to remain and work in the U.S. if they agree to assist law enforcement in testifying against the perpetrators.

Butanas wants to help other Filipino victims of human trafficking. He heads Migrante – Northern California, A program of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON).

With congress planning to make foreign guest worker programs part of its immigration reform package, Butanas said President Barack Obama and U.S. lawmakers should first make sure the programs already in place are not rife with abuse.

Butanas is also hopeful that it will be easier for victims of human trafficking to find a pathway to legalization that would allow them to also file immigration petitions for the families they left behind in the Philippines.

You may contact Henni Espinosa at henni_espinosa@abs-cbn.com for more information.

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