Human trafficking doesn’t just occur in grimy, faraway places. It happens right here, in our backyards, every single day. The latest proof: A forced labor scheme in the basement of an Illinois home.
Last week, Concepcion Malinek was arrested for labor trafficking after federal agents found 33 Guatemalan immigrants locked up in her suburban Cicero home, NBC News reports.
The woman, 49, is believed to have helped several of the captives cross into the US and charged them thousands of dollars through forced labor once they arrived at her residence. If they did not pay up, Malinek, a dual citizen of the US and Guatemala, told them they would be deported.
One man, who authorities are calling Victim D, said he owed the woman $18,000 for letting him use her name and residence on his immigration paperwork. Another captive, a woman identified as Victim C who lived in the home with her husband and two young children, said Malinek was verbally abusive.
A federal prosecutor believes Malinek received at least $120,000 in cash from the hostages.
According to a 12-page federal criminal complaint filed in the Northern District of Illinois, Malinek held 19 adults and 14 children in her home since 2018.
The FBI were tipped off of Malinek’s operation in early March.
On Thursday, a federal judge at the Dirksen Federal Building denied her bond deeming her a flight risk and danger.
Malinek is in federal custody awaiting trial, where she faces a maximum of 20 years per count in the case.
The things that take place behind the doors of detention centers are often a mystery. Undocumented immigrants disclose some things while immigration officials say another. The media is rarely given a chance to see what the facilities are like, and when they do, they don’t always get the whole picture. That is why advocates of these people are sometimes the only ones that not only get to visit the people inside, but they can also share with the public what is going on. Such is the case with an organization called Freedom for Immigrants who disclosed some incredibly awful events that took place at a detention center.
Freedom for Immigrants, a non-profit based in California, reports that immigrants detained at the ICE Processing Center in Pine Prairie, Louisiana, were attacked with excessive force by guards because they would not disperse during a hunger strike protest. The detention center is located in a remote area in Louisiana less than two hours west of Baton Rouge.
Freedom for Immigrants said that 115 immigrants had been on a hunger strike for five days, protesting their prolonged detainment.
Credit: @UUSC / Twitter
That is when guards pepper-sprayed them, shot at them with rubber bullets, tear-gassed, beaten, and placed in solitary confinement. They also report that the inmates were blocked from contacting their families or attorneys.
“When an individual in detention goes on hunger strike, it means the person is willing to put their body on the line just to be heard,” Sofia Casini, Southern Regional Coordinator with Freedom for Immigrants, said in a press release. “Multiple hunger strikes happening simultaneously are no coincidence: they are indicative of the desperation and suffering that immigrants are facing inside these human cages.
An ICE spokesperson confirms that the inmates were pepper-sprayed.
Credit: @EMc_42 / Twitter
Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, told BuzzFeed that the incident took place saying, a “group of ICE detainees refused to depart the outdoor recreation area at the Pine Prairie facility Friday evening.” He added, “After repeated attempts by facility staff and ICE personnel to disperse the group and restore orderly operation of the facility, brief, calculated use of pepper spray was employed Saturday morning.”
However, he said that no one was injured, which contradicts the images that were released from the incident.
Courtesy of Freedom for Immigrants
Freedom for Immigrants notes that several other hunger strikes are taking place at various detention centers around the country, including at another facility in Louisana. They report that at least 1,396 people have taken part in a hunger strike and 18 detention facilities since May 2015.
The assault against immigrants got so bad that an ambulance had to be called.
Courtesy of Freedom for Immigrants
Mother Jones reports that they can confirm the assault took place as several detainees sent lawyer Lara Nochomovitz text messages. Here’s what some of those messages said:
“There are lots of cops who came from another prison, they beat up the Cubans, they pepper spray them and handcuff them.”
Another said, “There’s even an ambulance here. Help us please this is ugly!”
Lt. Bill Davis of the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office told that publication that the incident was only a small disturbance and said the group consisted of only 30 people. He also added that the person that was taken in an ambulance was suffering from anxiety issues.
People who are imprisoned use hunger strikes to bring attention to the cruelty taking place inside.
Credit: @Haleaziz / Twitter
In some cases, detainees go long periods of stretches in a hunger strike protest, but officials have been known to force-feed them by using tubes.
They do this to get the attention of officials and of the media to inform them about the injustices that are going on inside. Sometimes it is their only form of communication since they are unable to speak to family.
Yanet Diaz is the aunt of Lisvani Perez Serrano who was transferred from Mississippi to Louisiana. She told Freedom for Immigrants that he passed his asylum interview and was granted parole. They informed him that he would be released in 15 days, but that never happened.
“They haven’t informed him about his case, and he is constantly being threatened. He and the other detained men had no other option but to go on hunger strike.”
The National Immigration Law Center said that it is not surprising that ICE hasn’t officially reported about what took place at the ICE Processing Center in Pine Prairiesince they lack transparency and oversight. They said they are demanding answers and accountability.
This past week was the week that the world brought attention to an issue that affects an estimated 40.3 million people around the globe, human trafficking. For Uruguayan Sandra Ferrini, 58, it was exposing a past that had followed her for most of her entire life. Ferrini was “sold” by her mother as a teenager into the world of street prostitution and after 37 years on the city streets of Chile, Paraguay, Argentina and in Europe, her story is now ready to be told.
According to a report from the International Labour Organization, there are around 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world, with 1 in 4 victims being children.
On Tuesday, Uruguay participated in its first anti-human trafficking march, with Ferrini joining countless of others who like her had to endure sex trafficking for years. Campaigners took to the streets of Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, where in the country of 3.5 million people, the most common form of human trafficking involves women and girls where they are forced into sex work.
For Ferrnini, the march was something that was on her mind all the years she had no voice on the issue and couldn’t speak up about the horrendous conditions she was placed in. She says many people choose to ignore the issue or just not address it all together.
“It’s a march that I thought about when I was held captive,” Ferrini told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Human trafficking happens every day, but people don’t want to see it. We are seen as numbers. We want to be seen as people. We will march as people.”
The details of Ferrnini past experience is just one example of the countless lives that face these situations on a daily basis. She says that she was sexually exploited for 37 years and was even forced to have sex with up to 30 men a day.
“I am a survivor of trafficking. It was my mother who sold me at the beginning,” Ferrini told Subrayado. “I was able to get rid at 45 because I had a traffic accident in which I was paralyzed. They were going to kill me, they threw me in a field, and a person rescued me.”
Human trafficking remains a global issue and the United Nations has set out to bring awareness and combat this growing issue.
Uruguay is one of the biggest epicenters when it comes to human trafficking. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons report, Uruguay was placed in its Tier 2 Watch List, which is the second-lowest ranking. This was done as the country has not meet many of the minimum standards when it comes to efforts in eliminating human trafficking.
“Most detected victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation; victims are also trafficked for forced labor, recruitment as child soldiers and other forms of exploitation and abuse,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told the United Nations on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. “Thousands of people have died at sea, in deserts and in detention centres, at the hands of traffickers and migrant smugglers plying their monstrous, merciless trades.”
For Uruguay, this is hopefully just the start of acknowledging and bringing to light the global issue of human trafficking.
There has been some progress in recent years when it comes to decreasing the number of sex trafficking victims. In 2017, Uruguay’s National Institute for Women assisted 172 women trafficking victims which was an increase from the previous year at 131, the U.S. State Department said.
There has also been legislative work put in place as last year Uruguay updated its anti-human trafficking law and action plan. The country also just recently created a new national committee to help combat it’s anti-trafficking efforts.
Ferrini now also heads “Yes to Life, No to Trafficking,” a survivors support group. It’s these types of groups and organizations that play a big role in getting women off the streets and rebuilding their lives and most importantly, rebuilding their broken self-esteem.
“I naturalized this as a child – for me it was something that I thought I had to live,” Ferrini said. “There’s a lot of work to do in education, training and prevention.”