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.

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



Advancing Justice Southern California (AJSOCAL)

AJSOCAL is the nation's largest legal aid and civil rights organization serving the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community