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.
Leticia Serrano, known to her friends and family as Letty, celebrated her 15th birthday with a quinceañera party complete with a ruby-red princess gown, bouquets of roses and a dessert bar earlier, in May this year. Six months later, the teen took her own life, just two years after being drugged, abducted and abused by a sex-trafficker in Houston.
Unfortunately, this story is not all that uncommon for victims of sex-trafficking.
Letty’s suicide came two years after she was abducted by a sex trafficker.
credit Facebook Cynthia Rivera
Letty Serrano was a high-achieving 13 yeard old student at Marshall Middle School in 2017 when she was drugged and taken by a sex trafficker not far from her school in Houston, Texas. According to her family, Leticia’s dad and godmother Cynthia Rivera spent days searching for the teenager before they found her inside an abandoned home near Moody Park. They took her to safety and reported the captor to the police.
Letty’s family said that the girl they brought back home was not the same girl who had left.
“We got her back damaged,” said Rivera, Letty’s godmother. After her rescue, Letty ran away from home on two occasions, to be with her abductor. Letty took her life early Saturday morning after locking herself in the bathroom. Her father recalls doing everything he could to reach her but when he finally did, it was too late. Serrano believes Letty couldn’t get over being away from the man who trafficked her two years prior. “She wanted to be with him,” he said holding back tears in a video interview. “But, she also didn’t want to hurt her family.”
The man was said to prey on teen’s weaknesses, taking advantage of the fact that Letty was a loner at school and that her brother had recently died. To make matters worse, the abductor and presumed sex trafficker was freed from jail 3 days after being arrested and never faced charges. “It’s a very common story, unfortunately,” said Micah Gamboa, executive director of Elijah Rising. “We see in Houston, a lot of times these pimps and these traffickers get off with just a misdemeanor or maybe deferred adjudication.”
Sex traffic is spreading across the nation.
credit Instagram @elijahrising
The Christian-based nonprofit organization Elijah Rising, whose mission is to end sex trafficking through prayer and intervention, claims there are more than 300,000 trafficking victims in Texas. “Entire cities are becoming red-light districts. It’s no longer just a centralized or isolated issue,” she explained. “It’s actually spreading across the nation.” According to Elijah Rising, suicide is, sadly, a common conclusion for many victims, in part, because their abusers aren’t usually caught.
Activists are trying to squash the myth that all women who work as prostitutes do so because they want to.
credit Twitter @DanielleDolor
“Prostitution isn’t people deferring entrance to Yale while they prostitute to raise money for tuition—that’s not the reality of what it looks like,” said Nicole Bell, who worked as a prostitute after being trafficked as a teen. “We’re looking at people in poverty, people of color, people coming out of the foster care system.” Human trafficking is estimated to bring in global profits of about $150 billion a year—$99 billion from sexual exploitation, according to the International Labor Organization. Nearly 9,000 cases in the U.S. were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline in 2017—a 13% increase from the prior year, according to the Polaris Project. But this data is incomplete, as cases are severely underreported.
Houston Police Deparment is looking into reopening the case of the man who abducted, drugged, and abused Letty.
Credit Facebook Cynthia Rivera
Commander Jim Dale of Houston Police Department spoke to Fox 26 about Letty’s tragic story. “I have requested an interview with my investigators so we can reopen the case,” he says this story also speaks to the need to do more in training in schools just like it’s done in the hospitality industry and transportation hubs. “She was a victim and somehow her cries fell through the cracks and I think that’s why it’s so imperative that we get the schools involved.”
Letty’s family is calling on schools to do more around suicide prevention and wants the city council to do something about the brothel where they found their little girl.
credit Facebook Cynthia Rivera
Letty’s godmother Cynthia Rivera is also calling on schools for more preventative measures. She says the family met with school officials on Tuesday afternoon. Rivera is also urging her city council district to do more about the abandoned houses, presumed brothels, where she says Letty was trafficked and, ultimately, found. “Mattresses, little girls bras, chemicals they use to drugs to mix with,” Rivera said referring to the items found in the house. “I want the community to come together,” she added. “Houston [needs] to come together and ask for these houses to be removed, torn down.”
Last year, Army veteran Miguel Perez was deported to Mexico, now he has finally become a United States citizen. While Perez served in the military with deployments in Afghanistan, a prior nonviolent drug conviction is why officials say the veteran was deported without warning. Perez was granted clemency by Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker and with the support of Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran herself, he was finally granted citizenship.
Perez’s nightmare makes national news.
Perez arrived in the U.S. from Mexico legally when he was 8 years old. His parents and children are citizens, and Perez lived here with a Greencard for much of his life. In 2002 and 2004, Perez served in Afghanistan, when he returned, like many soldiers, he had PTSD.
Pritzker said Perez should have had an “expedited path to citizenship” by way of an executive order by President George W. Bush, “but due to oversight, he was not afforded that opportunity.”
Perez says the experience at war overseas caused him to have PTSD and become addicted to drugs. It was this untreated addiction that would cause him to receive a felony drug conviction. He was convicted of delivering over two pounds of cocaine to an undercover cop in 2008 where he pleaded guilty.
After serving his time for 7.5 years, in 2016 he was turned over to immigration officials where his Greencard was revoked. Last year, Perez was deported to Mexico. He says he was given no warning and no chance to speak to his family.
Illinois Gov. J. N. Pritzker pardons Perez.
After a national public outcry, officials believed Perez was wrongfully deported. Pritzker granted him clemency in hopes of paving the way for the naturalization process with a clean record. “Now we believe that Miguel is eligible for naturalization because criminal conviction doesn’t render him ineligible through ‘bad moral character.’ That’s the term they use,” his lawyer, Chris Bergin told journalists in Laredo, Texas. “That’s what we’re going to argue, and I think it’s a good argument.” Bergin was sympathetic to Perez’s situation, suggesting it was a failure of the system to provide adequate support for veterans. “He served and saw serious action in Afghanistan,” Bergin said. “If we do support the troops, then we gotta support them all.”
Senator Tammy Duckworth fights on behalf of Perez and immigrants.
Senator Duckworth heard Perez’s case and went through many efforts to spare him from deportation by writing several letters of support including one directly asking U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson to personally review his case.
“Miguel Perez was willing to protect our nation in uniform and his experiences after coming home—including the great lengths he went to reform his life—show us why we should never give up on our combat Veterans. While he shouldn’t have been deported in the first place, I’m glad he’s received this parole after Governor Pritzker granted him clemency to attend his citizenship hearing, and I wish Miguel the best of luck. It will be a proud day for our country when we can call Miguel a fellow American,” Senator Duckworth said in a statement.
On the one-year anniversary of Perez’s deportation, she re-introduced three bills to support veterans and service members from deportation. The Veterans Visa and Protection Act, HOPE Act and I-VETS Act, “would prohibit the deportation of Veterans who are not violent offenders, give legal permanent residents a path to citizenship through military service and strengthen VA healthcare services for Veterans.”
Perez becomes finally becomes a citizen.
It wasn’t a call that the 41-year-old anticipated given the circumstances, but it was a welcome one nonetheless: he would be sworn in as a United States citizen.
“I was like no way. Seriously? He was like, ‘Yeah, it’s official,’ ” Perez told CNN of when his lawyer got the news.
Perez completed the naturalization oath with Green Card Veterans present. Now that he is back in the U.S. the veteran can spend time with his family and receive treatment for his health; Perez was being treated for an undisclosed issue when he received the call.
“I get to take care of my health, first and foremost,” he said. “It’s been a long … a long journey, a long battle.”
On his first day back, Perez told CNN all he plans to do is go bowling with his son. Inspired by Perez’s situation Senator Duckworth and bill co-sponsors Senator Richard Blumenthal, Senator Mazie Hirono, and Senator Ron Wyden plan to keep fighting to prevent veterans from being deported.
“Men and women willing to wear our uniform shouldn’t be deported by the same nation they risked their lives to defend,” Duckworth said.
Share this story with all of your friends by tapping our little share buttons below!