Freedom Network is excited to introduce new member organization Opening Doors, based in Sacramento, CA. We spoke with Elizabet Medina about the work of the organization and the incredible impact they are having in the Sacramento area.
“Our mission is to empower refugees, immigrants, human trafficking survivors, and underserved Sacramento area residents to achieve self-sufficiency by accessing opportunities to mainstream economic and social systems.”
History of Opening Doors
Opening Doors began in 1993 as a small refugee resettlement agency, called the Sacramento Refugee Ministry. In 2003, the organization incorporated as an independent 501(c)(3) with the name Opening Doors. In 2004, the program became a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), growing an existing micro loan program and offering training in personal financial success. Opening Doors was a founding member of the Rescue and Restore Coalition in 2007, and established its Survivors of Human Trafficking Program.
Opening Doors Background and Services
- We assist underserved members of the Greater Sacramento Area to find greater opportunities within the US social and economic system, to become self-sufficient, and to realize their dreams of a better future.
- Our programs help those escaping human trafficking and newly-arriving refugees to restart safe and healthy lives.
- We provide tools for immigrants, refugees, and low-income citizens to build or grow small businesses, and to gain greater control over their personal finances.
Rescue and Restore Coalition
The Rescue and Restore Coalition has been working and succeeding at the community level in Sacramento since 2007. One outstanding success was the passage of SB 1193, a bill requiring certain businesses to display information of The National Human Trafficking Hotline. In November, several Coalition members coordinated SacPOST, a day for volunteers to distribute the flyer to Sacramento businesses. As an initial member of the Coalition, Opening Doors is pleased to have stepped in as primary administer of the program, hosting a community conversation with major sectors including law-enforcement, faith-based groups, non-profits, prosecutors and the exended communty.
Forming the Survivors Network
With Elizabet as founding member, Opening Doors partnered with the Rescue and Restore Coalition to establish the Survivors Network, a program that connects and empowers survivors of human trafficking in Sacramento.
“The Survivors Network is a safe place for survivors to share their experiences and find the support and resources they need,” Elisabet says.
The brilliance of the program is that it is entirely survivor-run, and as Elizabeth states, “This was intentional,” Elisabet says of the leadership. “If survivors are not leaders from Day 1, [the network] becomes just another program.” The program combats the fact that many human trafficking victims feel isolated from support, or are intentionally isolated by perpetrators. The Survivor Network program not only provides community, but also access to resources including ESL classes, GED courses and various community resources.
Supporting the TCVAP
Opening Doors assists in education and awareness in support of the Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program (TCVAP). The TCVAP program focuses on assisting eligible non-citizen victims of human trafficking by providing them with state-funded benefits and services and was authorized by SB 1569 and effective beginning January 1, 2007. Through the TCVAP program, eligible persons may also receive 8 months of state-funded Medi-Cal administered by the California Department of Heath Care Services. In addition to providing assistance to victims of human trafficking, victims of domestic violence and serious crimes other than trafficking may meet eligibility for TCVAP funding after a U-Visa petition has been filed or granted. Opening Doors provides educational assistance to victims in application of these services.
Success through Services
Opening Doors is an organization that advocates and provides services to many needing assistance in the Sacramento area. The organization focuses on community development and prosperity, and believes in the fundamental value of each community member as a integral part of a diverse and thriving community.
President Obama announced his intent to nominate several key administrative posts today. The Freedom Network is happy to support Mrs. Susan Coppedge’s nomination for Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, with rank of Ambassador at Large, Department of State.
Mrs. Coppedge’s 15 years of experience prosecuting trafficking cases makes her an ideal candidate. Her victim centered approach and passion for justice is truly inspiring. Mrs. Coppedge has fought tirelessly to keep traffickers in jail. Survivors of this atrocious crime have always been Mrs. Coppedge’s priority. Their voices and experiences have always been heard even when they were not ready or able to speak for themselves.
Mrs. Coppedge has indicted 49 human trafficking cases since 2001, seven of which went to trial. In addition to prosecuting trafficking cases, Mrs. Coppedge has also taken every opportunity to train the community, law enforcement and social service agencies on indicators of human trafficking, prosecution and investigation of these cases. Mrs. Coppedge has advocated for nonjudgmental approach when working with survivors, an approach which focuses on dignity and respect.
Mrs. Coppedge’s experience spans across the international borders. In 2011, she served as the only U.S. prosecutor on a United Nations expert working group to develop an international reporting system for human trafficking. She also held a Fulbright Ian Axford Fellowship in Public Policy working with the New Zealand Ministry of Justice to enhance that country’s anti-trafficking efforts. Mrs. Coppedge recognizes the importance of collaboration across state and international lines.
More than 200 guest workers from India settled their lawsuits against the Mobile, Alabama based shipbuilder Signal International, with award of $20 million for their work after Hurricane Katrina. The federal lawsuit alleged that workers were lured to work for Signal with false promises of green cards and permanent U.S. residency. Signal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week, and shipyards will continue under oversight by the bankruptcy court.
The initial $14 million award was the first verdict against Signal, although the company faced 12 labor trafficking lawsuits coordinated by FN member Southern Poverty Law Center and filed on behalf of over 200 workers.
Signal workers paid between $10,000 and $20,000 to recruiters, and were then required to live in company owned housing at a cost of $1,050 per month for a double wide trailer size home serving up to 24 men. Because of their debts and the perimeters of their visas, the men could not leave Signal to work for other employers once they learned of the work conditions. Some workers who brought initial claims forth against Signal in 2007 were detained and deported by the company.
To read further about the Signal ruling, click here. Congratulations to all who fought and succeeded for the justice of workers!
On June 17, 2015 Daniel Werner Senior, Supervising Attorney at Southern Poverty Law Center, was honored to testify in front of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Werner opened by addressing the issue of retaliation against immigrant and migrant workers as a particularly susceptible demographic for three principle reasons. He cited abusive employer threats of deportation, lack of portability between jobs due to visa restrictions, and lack of resources in workers’ home countries to support reintegration and fairness upon dismissal or decision to leave a position.
Werner went on to produce recommendations for the establishment and enforcement of tactics to combat these barriers. Werner stressed that reducing vulnerability of immigrant and migrant workers to retaliation requires in part political solutions, including comprehensive immigration reforms, tightened controls over foreign labor recruitment markets, legislative fixes, and development of civil society resources in other countries.
Some concrete steps were also outlined to expedite the process of implementation:
- Establishment of a rapid response team to immediately investigate and seek remedies- such as temporary restraining orders or preliminary injunctions- where immigrant workers face retaliatory deportation, visa repeal, violence or blacklisting.
- Continue to certify U visas.
- Continue to develop strategies designed to protect immigrant worker claimants over the course of EEOC litigation.
- Seek maximum money damages and strong injunctive relief for retaliation claims
- Develop relationships with reputable NGOs and trusted government agencies in support countries
- Collaborate with U.S. federal and state agencies to prevent unscrupulous contactors and employers from recruiting and hiring migrant workers.
- Remain vigilant about possible human trafficking, and make referrals to law enforcement and service providors where the EEOC suspects human trafficking has occurred.
Werner notes that in many cases, retaliation or the threat of retaliation is a central component of the coercion traffickers use to maintain compliance from workers. He suggests that when the EEOC has identified retaliation against immigrant workers, it should automatically assess whether the retaliation rises to the level of human trafficking.
To read the full written testimony, click here
California labor laws are being enforced in the city of San Francisco to protect California laborers who are particularly susceptible to wage theft. These workers are often entitled to compensation exceeding backed wages due to minimum wage laws, including severance pay violations, liquidated damages and waiting time penalties. If workers are able to submit a complaint within the statute of limitations timeframe, they can often recover significant lost wages. Community organizations Mujeres Unidas y Activas and the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center recently assisted in a labor case awarded in favor of laborers by the California Labor Commissioner.
California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su. has awarded back pay in the amount of $138,386 to a caregiver who worked 16-hour days in San Francisco without adequate compensation. Francisca Vasquez, a Salvadorian war refugee, was hired in 1992 by two siblings to work as a caregiver and companion for their elderly parents. Vasquez was originally paid $400 per month, and later $500 per month as she took on housekeeping and round-the-clock care for the sibling’s ailing mother. Upon the death of the mother, Vasquez was discharged from her position.
The labor commissioner awarded her:
- $50,008 for wages
- $48,209 in liquidated damages
- $35,707 in interest
- $4,464 in penalties
Click here for the full article
As part of our ongoing interview series with members of The Freedom Network we introduce Roxbury Youthworks Inc. (RYI), a community-based minority nonprofit in Boston. We spoke with Steven Procopio of RYI about their work on behalf of youth and families.
RYI has served youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems for over 30 years, using a therapeutic mentor-model to build close relationships with youth and families in poverty to help them find safety and success. When youth are engaged with their families, community and local resources good things happen.
The Gaining Independence for Tomorrow (GIFT) program has a long history (and outstanding results) supporting girls and young women that are at high risk or are known victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The 24/7 service connects a mentor working in a role as life coach, helping them make smart decisions around education, employment, housing and more. Most importantly they are aiding youth in their healing from exploitation and helping others reduce their risk factors. The close mentoring relationship is a healthy bond built on trust and empowerment, as well as strong partnerships with other service providers.
Steven has developed the BUILD Program at RYI– Being United in Leading our Destiny– a new entity serving boys and trans-identified youth in Boston and across Massachusetts. The BUILD program employs an intensive mentoring model for this under served population, and the momentum and positive outcomes are growing.
“70% of the boys that are victims of human trafficking have a history of sexual victimization and are struggling with complex trauma; trauma that can present in ways quite different than they do in girls.”
Steven presented strategies working with boys to members at the Freedom Network Conference in San Francisco in 2014, offering ideas on effective identification and mentorship. A few highlights:
- Behavioral Indicators in boys: Adverse behavior can be a sign of victimization.
- Dispel myths around boys and sex trafficking: Both straight and gay boys are victims of trafficking.
- Cultural Competency: Gender matters when engaging youth.
- Risk factors in boys: Homelessness, runaway-behavior, withdrawn affect and self-mutilation are common.
“At Roxbury Youthworks our mission was strengthened by policy changes from the Department of Justice and Obama Administration”
We believe strong partnerships come with the sharing of information, and this new series of interviews on the Freedom Network blog with members will help us build those bonds and do better work together. If your organization committed to combatting human trafficking from a human rights perspective The Freedom Network could be a valuable tool for growth. We invite you to learn more about membership and explore joining our community.
Lynnette Parker, Associate Clinical Professor at the Katherine and George Alexander Community Law Center was recognized last year by the FBI for her incredible and unwavering work with victims of human trafficking.
Parker has been working in the Bay Area and has advocated for human trafficking victims for nearly 15 years. Parker was honored for her advocacy by the FBI with the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award from the San Francisco Field Office at a 2014 awards ceremony.
Parker’s outstanding achievements include the following:
- In 2005, she helped form the multi-agency South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, which meets monthly and shares information and resources to meet the housing, legal, and support needs of victims.
- She and other coalition members have spoken before hundreds of social-services, legal, and other groups to educate them on the problems, signs, and resources for trafficking victims.
- She’s referred numerous cases to law enforcement, helping the San Francisco FBI office launch at least two major trafficking-ring investigations.
- She and her team have helped more than 80 families get “T-Visas” that enable them to stay in the U.S. legally while trafficking cases are prosecuted.
- She has helped launch numerous classes at Santa Clara University dealing with human trafficking.
Freedom Network is proud to work with the Alexander Law Center at Santa Clara University and Lynnette Parker in her efforts to eradicate human trafficking.
The Freedom Network USA is working to strengthen the relationships between member organizations. We believe strong bonds encourage the sharing of information, and this new series of interviews on the Freedom Network blog with members will help us build those bonds and do better work together.
We’re kicking-off the interview series with a chat with Maja Hasic at Tapestri in Atlanta. Tapestri has a 14-year history of service to immigrant and refugee families impacted by domestic violence and exploitation. Taprstri has supported victims throughout Atlanta and The South with expertise in case management, housing assistance, counseling and legal advocacy. Maja is proud of the partnerships Tapestri has built with service providers in Atlanta and across the region.
Tapestri supports organizations in eight Southern states with training and technical assistance, offering education on victim intake interviews, counseling and mental health support, immigration rules and more.
“Tapestri knows we’re stronger together. We share our knowledge with organizations supporting victims, giving them the tools to do great work.”
Maja is a big fan of the Freedom Network community, having tapped into the expertise of the network numerous times for information on obtaining visas and most recently, civil litigation of traffickers.
Freedom Network Member Martina Vandenberg at The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center connected Tapestri with Audra Dial, managing partner of the Atlanta office of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton for the purpose of promoting justice through civil litigation. This partnership led to the first civil litigation judgment against traffickers in the state of Georgia. A $365,000 award was secured for a victim forced into domestic service for nearly two years; the woman thought she had taken a two-week job in Georgia catering the wedding of the Ellenwood couple’s son.. Learn more about Tapestri and their services in Atlanta and throughout the South on their website.
Is your organization committed to combatting human trafficking from a human rights perspective? The Freedom Network is growing and we invite you to learn more about membership and explore joining our community!
The Give Way to Freedom Organization fights against human trafficking by providing various resources to the local and global community. Based in Vermont, the organization has partnered with the University of Vermont College of Medicine Public Health Project, as well as the Vermont task force. Other domestic projects include providing a toolkit and training materials to the Massachusetts General Hospital for health care professionals and coordinating a rapid response support system.
The organization is also associated with various international projects in the fight against human trafficking. Give Way to Freedom is working on a social action project for women’s crisis centers in Mae Sot, Thailand and is also working with partner program Children On the Edge. The organization also works with Freedom House in Kisumu, Kenya and the Helen Bamber Foundation in London.
Give Way to Freedom director Edith Klimoski was recently recognized by the state of Vermont and awarded for her work on behalf of survivors of human trafficking. It is a great achievement to be recognized by the state for the powerful work both she and the organization are doing, and Freedom Network is proud to support this influential agency.