(In our anti-human trafficking training, we were each given an article and asked to summarize it for the class. My article was a copy of an actual New York Times article from 2002, about a forced-labor ring that had been busted in upstate New York. Migrant workers were promised one thing in Arizona, taken to New York, only to discover they'd been lied to. The article impacted me so much, that I wrote a fictionalized account based on the facts. The following is that fictionalized account.)
It is unbearably hot in the back of the van. We can see the blue sky through the windows, but we cannot open them to receive even a bit of the fresh air. My legs are cramping from sitting in one position for hours at a time. The men on either side press against me, jostling me with each bump of the road. We have been jammed into this space like sardines. There are 30 of us in this van.
The men driving make many stops to buy gas or food for themselves, but we are not allowed to get out to use the bathroom or stretch our legs. Instead, we must wait until it grows dark. Once night comes, they will find a secluded place to stop--away from any prying eyes. They give us brackish water and some food. Not much, but more than some of these men are used to back in Mexico or Guatemala.
We are on our way to jobs in New York. Good jobs, they said, that pay $500 a week, with our rent and utilities included! With this money, even after buying our own food and paying for the things we need, there should still be enough to send home to our families. More than enough.
The man next to me thanks the Lady of Guadalupe for this blessing. "If we can make it through the long drive across the country," he says, "we will be all right. Think of all we will be able to do for our families back in Mexico!" I give him a sad smile. He does not know what I know.
During our last stop, I overheard the two men laughing and talking to each other. About how they tricked us. Tricked us all. There will not be much money to send home to the families. These men know that our new bosses will not pay $500 a week, or give us a house for free. They will pay $5.15 an hour and will charge us $40 a week to share a small house with other men. Three beds among eleven men. This is not what we were promised. This is not what we agreed to. And what little money we might have leftover has to go to pay off the $1,000 they will charge us for the trip from Arizona. How are we to pay for so much with so little? Our families are counting on us to send them money.
I thought about running away. But I crossed the border illegally, and I am afraid I will be sent back. Then what would my family do for money? Some is better than none, no? Even if this were not so, one of the men has a gun. If I tried to run away, would he shoot me? I do not know. There is nothing I can do.
The other men in the van do not know this. I do not have the heart to tell them. Our journey to New York is almost over. They will find out for themselves soon enough.