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The gripping tale of a garment industry slave

Roman-era slave shackes at a museum in England, August 2010
Roman-era slave shackes at a museum in England, August 2010
Photo by Sebastia Giralt/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Human trafficking into the United States is often associated in the public consciousness with the sex industry, and for good reason. But the trafficking of workers, including factory workers in the garment and food processing industries, is also relatively commonplace.

Today CNN's anti-slavery Freedom Project posted the harrowing testimony of Flor Molina, a Mexican woman who in 2001 was enslaved as a garment worker.

Desperate for money after losing her baby because she could not afford health care back home, Molina began taking sewing classes in order to find work. It was there that she fell victim to trafficking, after a trafficker approached her sewing teacher "because she knew a lot of women who knew how to sew and would be desperate to come to the United States." Molina recounts:

I had to leave my mom and my children behind. I was told that when I got to the U.S. I will have a job so I could send money home, food and a place to stay. When I arrived in Los Angeles, I quickly realized it had all been a lie.

My trafficker told me that now I owe her almost $3,000 for bringing me to the U.S. and that I had to work for her in order to pay her back.

I was forced to work 18 hours a day making dresses that were being sold for $200 department stores. When all the workers in the factory got to go home, I had to clean the factory. I was forced to sleep at the factory in a storage room and I had to share a single mattress with another victim. The other workers in the factory were able to come and go at the end of their shift. I was forbidden to talk to anyone or from putting one step outside of the factory. I worked hard and I was always hungry. I was given only one meal a day and I had 10 minutes to eat.

Molina said she was held in slavery for 40 days, "but if felt like 40 years." As it turns out, the FBI was investigating the trafficker, who was prosecuted, she said, but sentenced only to house arrest.

According to the Polaris Project, a national anti-trafficking and anti-slavery organization, laborers are trafficked into the United States to work in agriculture, the garment industry, food service and other industries, as well as prostitution. A 2009 report from the organization on brothels that enslave women trafficked from Latin America was recently featured in a related MSNBC story on "Latino residential brothels."