I Was Kept Locked Up For Months

Last year, I escaped from religious persecution in China and fled to the United States to apply for asylum.

In China, I had met a man over the internet named George who lived in the United States and explained to me the process to apply for asylum. He said I qualified and promised to help me find a lawyer when I came over. He said the process would only take two months, and that I did not have to pay him to do my application if I worked for him at his electronics store as a cashier and cleaner.

At this time, the persecution that I faced in China was increasing. I was scared to walk outside or leave my home. I decided then to leave for the United States, and asked George for help.

When I arrived in the United States, I met George at the airport. He took me to his electronics store and told me I had to stay at the store 24 hours a day, 7 days a week while we worked on my application, for my own safety. He took my passport, saying he needed to hold onto it as protection in case I stole from his store. I wanted to tell him that I was grateful for his help and would not steal from his store so that I could retain my passport, but I felt I needed to respect his instructions.

I stayed and slept in a small room at the back of his store. During the day, while the store was open, I worked as a cashier and cleaner, as George had instructed. However, I also worked at the store at night, because George had told me I had to watch out for robbers.

Many months passed. I began to have doubts about George. I asked him when I could start on my asylum application. He said I had to be patient and that I should be grateful because he was not charging me to find a lawyer, or to stay in the room.

He said that if I tried to leave, the police would catch me and send me home because I did not have my passport. He reminded me of the harm that would happen to me if I were sent back home. At this point, I wanted to escape. But then, George showed me his gun.

I was feeling miserable being locked up in the store. I missed seeing the outdoors. So, ignoring my fears of George shooting at me, I confronted him again. George got very angry and called the police. When the police arrived, George told them that I stole something. I was too scared and nervous to explain to them George had kept me trapped in his store.

Eventually, I found the courage to ask in English for my passport, which the police gave back to me. When they did not arrest me or deport me, I realized George was also lying about the police to keep me trapped.

The police let me go, and I had my passport once again. I was free, although I did not feel like it. So, I looked for a lawyer who could help explain my situation to me and what I could do. Because I did not speak English well and did not have much money, I struggled to find a lawyer who could speak to me in Chinese.

I then found Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles. Through them, I was able to speak to a lawyer who explained that I was the victim of human trafficking and that I could qualify for a T visa. I am working with them to understand my options and how to proceed, as I do not want to return to China and be persecuted.

I received assistance to find housing. I have even made some friends in the neighborhood. Sometimes, I have nightmares, and imagine I am still locked in the room in George’s shop. I hope that with time, I will be able to become an American and live without fear. I am thankful for my new friends, including Advancing Justice-LA, for helping me feel safe for the first time since I coming to the United States.

Joseph
Client, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles
*Name and details have been changed to protect client confidentiality