Cayla Roberts was 14 when smugglers, known as snakeheads, forced her from China into the United States for the sex trade in 2002. She was arrested before they put her to work. Now, she is facing deportation.
“Before we left China, the smugglers told me we can’t run away from them, because they know people up here, too, and they can find us,” Roberts, now 24, told 24 Hour News 8.
Roberts’ attorney says Cayla’s story illustrates the flaws in an immigration system that handles many people here illegally the same — whether they were adults who came here on their own, were children taken along by adults, or whether they were smuggled in.
Snakeheads Charge Tens Of Thousands Of Dollars To Smuggle Children Out Of China
In 2002, after her mother died, Cayla’s father sold her to smugglers, she said. ”I have took care of you for 14 years now, and it’s your time to give back,” she recalled. Experts say snakeheads charge tens of thousands of dollars to smuggle Chinese children into the U.S.
And, the children are expected to send money back to their family in China. ”Here you have a girl who’s brought here, her father basically sold her to satisfy a gambling debt, sold her into basically what amounts to slavery to work in the sex industry, the most despicable thing you can imagine,” said Cayla’s immigration attorney, David Koelsch, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.
Her father dropped her off at a train station. At the end of the train ride, “there was some guy with my name on the paper, and I just kind of followed the guy.” The journey led her to Mexico, by plane, with 29 other smuggled Chinese immigrants, then into the U.S. through San Diego, she said. The snakeheads created a passport with a new name.
But before she reached the East Coast sex trade, men with guns and handcuffs pulled her and three other girls from a van, late in the night. These men were her saviors: San Diego police officers. Immigration officers flew her to a center for undocumented children in Chicago.
“Either I Will Kill You…..Or You Can….Just Kill Yourself”
She called her father. ”There’s no home for you here anymore, and there’s two options if you ever come home,” she quoted him as saying. “One option is, either I will kill you, cuz there’s no home for you here anymore, or I will just give you a bottle of medicine and you can take care of it yourself, just kill yourself.”
Bethany Christian Services eventually brought her to a foster family in Grand Haven. She flourished, with nearly perfect grades at Grand Haven High School. She volunteered with her church to rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina, to work with poor children in Kentucky and in New York. Cayla got married more than a year ago, to Seth Roberts, after he got out of the Air Force. They met in high school and dated for two years.
In a few weeks, Cayla will graduate from Western Michigan University with degrees in psychology and interpersonal communications.
For nine years, Koelsch has fought to keep Cayla in the country without much success. In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected her request. Her last hope, Koelsch thought, was at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office in Detroit, and an Obama administration policy called prosecutorial discretion, which allows ICE attorneys to pick and choose who can stay and who must go.
Take Action For Cayla
Cayla can’t legally work here or get a driver’s license. The only way she can become a U.S. citizen is to return to China to get permission from that country — something that could take years. And, her attorney said, it could put her in danger — from the smugglers, her father, from China.
If you believe that Cayla Roberts deserves better treatment, please sign our petition telling the ICE: Don’t Deport Cayla Roberts, Victim of Sex-Trafficking!
Photo Credit: screenshot from woodtv.com