Rathish Pandian grew up in Tamil Nadu, Southern India, but fled to the U.S. as an adult after being threatened by government authorities for his political views. Upon arrival here, he was offered a job by another immigrant from his country at a Subway restaurant, but his trafficker took his documents, and threatened to call immigration officials at the Department of Homeland Security if Rathish complained. “I didn’t know I’d be in the same situation of exploitation in the United States as the one I left India,” he said. For nearly five years, Rathish was not compensated for the work that he did, and was subjected to long hours and harsh working conditions. Finally, he persuaded a friend to help him escape his trafficker.
Years later, in Seattle, his undocumented status caught up with him, and he was sent to the Northwest Detention Center run by GEO, a private prison company with a documented history of human rights abuses. In the Northwest Detention Center, Rathish struggled to access legal services. He went to the law library every day and sought information that could help him. “I learned the laws, and got myself out.”
Rathish advocated for himself and obtained a T-Visa, which allows victims of human trafficking to remain in the United States if they testify against their perpetrators. Unfortunately, because there is a statute of limitations in Florida, Rathish’s trafficker was able to get away with the suffering he caused. Now, Rathish uses his voice to educate others about the need for immigration reform, the conditions he faced in immigrant detention, and the existence of human trafficking in the United States.
Rathish Pandian’s story of exploitation and trafficking is not unlike the story of many others who have come to the United States. Except Rathish is one of the lucky foreign national trafficking survivors—he received protection and recognition from the United States.
About the Authors: Rathish Pandian is a human trafficking survivor living in Seattle, WA. He is currently perusing higher education. Elizabeth Murphy works at the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center and is a member of the Multifaith Coalition. Kelly Hickman is the Assistant Director for the Missions Office of the Archdiocese of Seattle and is a member of the Multifaith Coalition.
This story was originally posted on October 1, 2016 by Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, a founding partner of the Multifaith Coalition to Address Human Trafficking. The Coalition hopes to recruit legal professionals in the area surrounding the Northwest Detention Center and equip them with the knowledge necessary to identify and assist potential trafficking victims through Northwest Immigrant Rights Project’s Pro-Bono lawyer program. Click here for information on their November 16th recruitment event taking place in Tacoma, WA.