According to a report by the Miami Herald, an immigrant deemed a human trafficking victim has been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because her visa is expired. The woman, identified only as Ana, fled a family for whom she worked for $3 an hour, for 13-hour workdays. She also was denied health care and the family monitored her communications, warning her that if she did not cooperate, she would be deported to her native Colombia and lose the temporary work visa the family had obtained for her.

In October 2016, Ana worked up the courage to leave the family and filed a complaint against her employer with federal officials. In August, the Department of Labor ruled that she was the victim of “a severe form of human trafficking.” But after she fled the upscale Miami home where she had worked and slept on the floor, she was detained by ICE and now faces the prospect of deportation.

The Miami Herald continues:

“This is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” Ana said during a brief telephone interview from the Broward Transitional Center, an immigrant detention facility in Pompano Beach. El Nuevo Herald is not using the real name because of fears of reprisals against Ana and her two young children, who are still in Colombia. She has applied for a special visa for victims of human trafficking.

For many lawyers and advocates, Ana’s case highlights contradictions within the U.S. government. The Department of Labor has concluded that she is a victim of human trafficking who must be protected. But she has been locked up for months under the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—even as the Department of Labor investigated her case.

Since her detention four months ago, lawyers for two non-profit organizations have been trying to win her release while her labor exploitation case is pending. But an immigration judge had repeatedly denied bond, ruling that she is a flight risk because of a theft accusation pending in Miami—filed by the family that once employed her.

Ana remains in jail because she cannot pay her $5,000 bail, although some immigration experts believe that detaining someone who is a human trafficking victim is another form of victimization. Ana’s attorney, Jennifer Hill, who specializes in labor law, said, “It’s crazy! During this entire process, which has been going on for months, every one of the agencies involved was informed that (Ana) was cooperating with authorities as a victim.”

Cases such as Ana’s are not uncommon. The first year of the Trump administration has seen a nationwide increase in ICE arrests. President Trump campaigned very explicitly on cracking down on immigrants, making inflammatory claims about Mexican immigrants being criminals. Another notable case of ICE going after vulnerable immigrants involves a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who was recently detained on her way to a hospital for gallbladder surgery.

Ana Isabel Vallejo, a lawyer with VIDA Legal Assistance, told The Miami Herald, “Sadly, almost 20 years after the law that protects victims of human trafficking was approved, we still see these kinds of cases where the victims are detained. Although these kinds of situations have diminished over the years, many times—while the cases are processed—a person can be detained for immigration violations before he or she is determined to be a victim.”

She added, “On one hand, we have a task force and agents at Homeland Security very knowledgeable about how to deal with victims. But if any victims of trafficking try to escape from their abusers, and the abusers file false accusations against them before the victims can contact authorities, the victims can be detained and even deported.”

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig