Stop Deportation Of Cayla Roberts, Sex-Trafficking Victim


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!


Related Stories

Ending Sex Trafficking One Brothel At A Time

Justice And Cash For Sex Trafficking Victims

Why Shutting Down Sex Ads Fails Trafficking Victims

Photo Credit: screenshot from


Jean D.
Jean Dahlquist5 years ago

It's people like this who we should want in our country! Also, how can she be deported if she is married to an American? Isn't that like automatic citizenship right there?

Nimue Pendragon

China again *sigh* Petition signed. Hope it helps Cayla; not only was she a victim, but she would be a worthy member of the american community and also her life would be protected. Her father should be ashamed of himself, as should America if they go ahead with this unjust deportation.

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad5 years ago

David, I so agree!

Angela Burrow
Angela Burrow5 years ago

Without even taking into account the fact that Cayla would be an asset to any community, her life has been threatened should she returned to China. There is no question she should be allowed to remain, in my opinion.

David Anderson
David Anderson5 years ago

I generally am not sympathetic to illegal immigrants, but that is predicated on the notion that they are people who are willfully violating our laws for personal gain. Someone who was brought here against her will to be enslaved is much different, especially considering that she will be in immediate danger because of these events (again, imposed against her will) as opposed to being in the 'danger' awaiting most deportees of merely being returned to the standard conditions of the place they voluntarily left.

Paul S.
Paul S5 years ago

Who are the 2% arseholes voting against helping this unfortunate woman?

Julie H.
Julie Hoffman5 years ago

She is human. We need to help her

ii q.
g d c5 years ago


Minkie l.
Ming L5 years ago

i dnt think she should pay for her personal troubles let her stay as compensation for her tradegy

Minkie l.
Ming L5 years ago

i dnt think she should pay for her personal troubles let her stay as compensation for her tradegy