Jamelia Hinds became a U.S. Citizen in February, more than 20 years after being trafficked to the Central Valley as a child in the late 1990s from the Caribbean country of Belize. She attended her naturalization ceremony in Fresno, just one week before her 34th birthday. Jamelia says, “I’ve been waiting on my citizenship since I was 12 years old because I was brought here with the promise of being adopted and becoming a citizen and having the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. But, you know, it didn’t turn out that way.”
Instead, Jamelia spent twelve years in forced domestic servitude in Fresno County. Finally, in 2010, she managed to get her hands on a phone and reached out for help. With no family or friends in the area, Jamelia contacted Fresno EOC Sanctuary and Support Services. Then program assistant, Evelyn Gonzalez, referred her to their Central Valley Against Human Trafficking (CVAHT) project.
At the time, protocols to help trafficking victims were new to national and local service providers. Jamelia was the first foreign national victim to be served by CVAHT. Project Manager Amber Secundino says the acknowledgment of human trafficking is fairly new, even now. “The Trafficking Victims Protection Act was not signed until 2000. So, the federal definition of what human trafficking is, was only clearly defined 22 years ago.”
Despite freeing herself from her trafficking experience, Jamelia still needed documentation to stay in the United States legally. She had a long and arduous battle trying to get her U.S. Citizenship. “At one point, when I turned myself in to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), I was detained and placed in a cell, pregnant with my second child and away from my toddler. So, when I was able to stand on that stage and got sworn in as a U.S. Citizen, that became my freedom day because I was truly free. I no longer had to watch the news and panic every time I heard about a new immigration law. When I walked on that stage, all that was left behind.”
The path to citizenship for a human trafficking survivor is not a quick process. One of the first steps is to apply for a T visa, which allows victims of human trafficking to remain and work temporarily in the United States. Amber explains, “There is a long waiting period for each of those applications because the list of people who have applied for that relief is extensive. Right now, I know that people are waiting around five years, on average, for a response to their T visa application.”
Jamelia was able to navigate through the immigration system successfully and start a brand new life. She is now a colleague to Evelyn, the person who answered her call for help. Evelyn has since become an Outreach Coordinator for Central Valley Against Human Trafficking, while Jamelia is a Survivor Consultant and has provided training for CVAHT on how to engage survivors. Evelyn explains how Jamelia’s situation has come full circle, “Initially, Jamelia helped us learn through her lived experience, and now she continues to help us learn how to be better advocates and provide better services to our clients.”
Some of Jamelia’s recent work includes training state social workers to identify labor trafficking victims. Amber says, “Right now, social workers only have a tool to identify sex trafficking victims. There is no policy or protocol for victims of labor trafficking to be identified, and there are no services. So, she has been able to provide advisement.”
Throughout her ordeal, Jamelia never lost hope and says the day she received her citizenship, she was reborn. “For a long time, I felt people took advantage of the fact that I didn’t have any rights. So, I had to take a lot of abuse. There was a lot of discrimination. And now, I get to speak my peace. Jamelia Hinds is now a strong and independent woman who gets to live life with the freedoms afforded to everyone else who is called an American citizen.”
Moving forward, Jamelia plans to continue providing hope and advocating for others; and she says she won’t forget the people who helped support her along the way. “The journey was long. It was hard. It’s not fair to survivors or victims to have to be their own advocate or suffer even more trauma just to have someone help them. The system shouldn’t be that way. But I still survived it with two beautiful children. And through that process, I was able to get my GED. I became a stronger speaker, advocate, and a survivor leader. I became a wife in the midst of it, and I met some other amazing people during my journey. People who were by my side and supported me during those years.”
Jamelia says that one day she would like to open up an organization to help survivors of human trafficking, led by survivor employees in order to have improved understanding, better access to services, and appropriate training to support clients in every step of their healing.
NEED HELP NOW?
If you are in immediate need of assistance, contact Fresno EOC CVAHT’s 24/7 trauma response line at (559) 500-7630 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888. Or text “HELP” to “BeFree” (233733).