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Jul 22, 2013

When we first introduced you to Cayla Roberts, she was well on her way to a full and happy life despite being sold by her father into the sex-trafficking industry. In case you missed our feature on her, here’s a quick summary: Born in China, when her mother died her father sold her to “snakeheads”—sex traffickers—to pay off a gambling debt. She was miraculously rescued and with our help, placed in foster care with a wonderful family in Grand Haven, Michigan. She graduated with honors from both Grand Haven High School and Western Michigan University. And she walked down the aisle on her foster father’s arm to marry a young man she met in high school.

The only thing standing between her and complete freedom was a special visa—called a “T visa”—given to victims of human trafficking by the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), allowing them to legally remain in the United States and pursue citizenship. The struggle to obtain that document further illustrates the plight of those trapped in trafficking.  Although Cayla was eligible for a T visa, they are not easy to obtain. According to the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, fewer than 1,000 T visas are granted annually—of the 885 applications in 2012, 194 were denied.

So you can imagine Cayla’s relief when her T visa arrived last month. Receiving this treasured document meant Cayla could apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) allowing her to work and, after five years, begin the process toward U.S. citizenship. Naturally, she was overjoyed . . . until she took a closer look at the special visa. The government used the name given to her by the snakeheads—not the name she has used throughout the eleven years she has lived in the United States. For all practical purposes, a person by the name of Cayla Roberts didn’t exist.

The mix-up was more than an inconvenience. She recently was diagnosed with thyroid cancer which has already led to thousands of dollars in medical bills. Without a T visa, she could not be carried on her husband’s health insurance policy, and she faced more surgery to remove a tumor.

Despite this setback, Cayla persevered, working with officials from both USCIS and Homeland Security. Then on July 15, a new T visa showed up in the mail and she immediately looked at the name: Cayla Roberts! In the same mailing she received her EAD.

“I am now in the process of applying for a Social Security Number,” she explained. “Once I get that, my husband can apply for me to be on his health insurance. With my T visa I no longer have to worry about being deported. I will be able to work and stay in the United States. I can finally move on with my life.”

Cayla is one of many unaccompanied minor refugees Bethany has placed in foster care. Her story is a reminder of the challenges children face when they arrive here from afar, often against their will. Please pray for Cayla and her husband as they continue their journey together.