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What got you through the hardest moment in your life?

Story by Heartland Alliance August 12th, 2014

11 days on foot

When Roberto left his home country, work visa in hand, he thought he’d signed on to a short manual labor project – a few months picking onions and he’d be home. But when the van transporting him pulled up to the job site, he saw 40 men kept in a small trailer, and he was being marched towards it. In terror he fled, travelling on foot for 11 days until he reached Chicago, a place he heard of while on the road.
“They shot at me as I ran for the trees surrounding the field. I thought I was coming to work but they would have made me a slave,” Roberto says of those days.

fear and hope

Chicago however didn’t turn out to be the land of promise he’d hoped for. He could find only odd jobs, often under dangerous conditions, working for 12 hours straight in the summer sun without food or water. His employers would refuse to pay him for his day’s work. But with no place to turn, and the ongoing fear that his captors were hot on his trail, he had no choice but to accept the fear and poverty, hoping the next day would be better than the last, and that he would remain safe.

“I kept a diary. It’s the only way I could survive. I missed my family so desperately, I was afraid, I couldn’t find work. It was a terrible time. I am a musician and a writer so I wrote. I filled a dozen journals. More than that. And everyday I prayed and I put my faith in God. What I’ve written, I’m making it into a book, and I’m working on lyrics. My faith and my writing kept me alive.”

an unlikely connection

It was in the most unlikely way that Roberto connected to Heartland Alliance – in line at a convenience store. A woman behind him in line overheard him saying that he needed help becoming a legal permanent resident and sent him to an attorney who had helped her. After hearing his harrowing story, that attorney quickly connected him to Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center, who he knew specialized in addressing the unique legal needs of survivors of human trafficking – a form of modern day slavery – like Roberto.


regaining independence

Today, Roberto has the legal status he needs to live and work legally here in the US. He’s also regaining his independence and realizing the dream he no longer thought was possible: reuniting with his family, who his captors threatened to harm unless they revealed his location, after four long years. “My wife and daughters will be here in several weeks and we will finally be safe and together,” Roberto says. “Thank you [Heartland Alliance] for bringing my family together again.”
Footnote: Photography by Melina Kolb, Story by Melissa Spear
Chicago, IL, United States
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