Trafficked in the
Land of the Free
by Santiago J. Arnaiz
Eleonor Ramos couldn’t sleep at all that night.
The sound of sirens was keeping her up.
Somewhere outside, a police car was approaching.
Cold sweat dripping down her neck, she sat motionless.
They were coming for her. She knew it.
In another part of the room sat a pair of eviction letters. Her employers
were supposed to have paid the rent. They docked her wages $150 for
it every two weeks. The sirens grew louder. It had been three days
since the water and electricity had been cut, and all the food in the
refrigerator had spoiled.
Ramos shifted slowly, careful not to make a noise. Against the wall,
she could see the subtle rise and fall of her husband’s silhouette, lying
prone on the bed bug-ridden mattress they shared. She couldn’t see
his face, but she knew he was awake. Their two co-workers in the
room next door must have been awake, too. None of them slept. How
could they, with the constant fear of arrest and deportation hanging
over them. She held her breath, afraid to make a sound.
The sirens passed.
She waited for the silence to set in again before letting out a sob.
Ramos thought of her three children waiting for her back in the
Philippines, how she had promised to visit them every year. She
thought about the crippling debt that waited for her as well – how,
after more than six months working for her current employers, she
and her husband were barely making enough money to survive, much
less pay it back. They had sacrificed so much to get here, to this
dingy apartment they shared with two strangers.
“Sometimes, you can’t help but be pushed to tears thinking
about what you’ve experienced.”
The Ramoses were working for a group called HCMS, a
staffing company that had them cleaning a hotel in Bossier
Their employers had hidden the fact that they failed to
renew their workers’ required work visas. But even after the
Ramoses found out, there was nothing they could do. In the
eyes of the law, they were illegally employed and shouldn’t
have been working in America.
But if they stopped working, their employers had threatened
to have them arrested and deported.
They were trapped.
In 2009, she came to America in the hopes of finding work as a seasonal laborer. Following her husband Ferdinand, who left for America in 2007, she had planned to stay in the United States for no more than three years, working wherever she could to make enough money to get her children back home through school.