Mayo Clinic donation helps immigrant victims of ‘modern slavery’ in Southeast Minnesota

July 17, 2019

Originally posted on Mayo Clinic News Center

Donations from Mayo Clinic support Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association— an organization in Rochester that provides services and help to victims of human trafficking.

Imagine having to leave your home country to escape government-sanctioned torture. You secure a visa to work as a nanny. You dream of supporting your family back home. Instead, you work all waking hours with no days off. You are isolated from anyone who speaks your language. Your employer withholds your pay and travel documents. When you ask for your pay, you are beaten.

That scenario, while difficult to imagine, could happen anywhere — even in Rochester, Minnesota. Mayo Clinic is supporting local organizations that assist those who are victimized.

“It’s modern slavery, and it happens here,” says Ponloeu Chim, associate director of the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association in Rochester.

Trafficking happens here

In 2018, the International Mutual Assistance Association in Rochester supported 77 immigrant victims of crime, including nine women who were labor or sex trafficking victims. Mayo Clinic has donated $35,000 to the association to expand its services to trafficking victims in Rochester and surrounding communities.

“The victims often are brought to the U.S. illegally. When they do come legally, the trafficker keeps their documents to exert control,” Chim says. “Without immigration status or proper documentation, it is drastically more difficult to tap into resources for housing, employment, education and transportation.”

Services provided by the International Mutual Assistance Association and other community organizations support victims as they rebuild their lives. This can include housing, food, clothing, transportation, counseling, advocacy, immigration and legal assistance, medical care, job training and family reunification.

“We have interpreters on call who speak 50 languages,” Chim says. “We can address the cultural sensitivities that make seeking help very difficult.”

Identifying trafficking victims

Identifying victims of trafficking can be tricky, Chim says.

Staff in the Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester, Saint Marys Campus, use a toolkit when they suspect a patient might be a trafficking victim. This toolkit includes information on how to identify, assess, manage and treat trafficking victims. The toolkit also includes information on local community resources for additional help.

The toolkit was developed by Vickie Ernste, D.N.P., nurse manager in the Emergency Department. She says clues to identify trafficking victims can be subtle.

“The patient might give vague or inconsistent answers to questions about family and home address. The clue could be a ‘friend’ who won’t leave the patient’s side,” Ernste says. “Or it might be nicely manicured fingernails and an expensive purse that don’t fit with the patient’s overall appearance.”

When staff at Mayo Clinic suspect trafficking, they work to get the patient alone and ask direct questions about the patient’s circumstances.

“We want them to know that the Emergency Department is a safe place, and we can offer resources to help,” Ernste says.

To raise awareness of human trafficking, Ernste has educated colleagues across Mayo Clinic, and at other regional and national venues, on the toolkit.

About the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association

The Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association began serving immigrants in Rochester and southeast Minnesota in 1984. The organization works with more than 80 victims of trafficking and their families each year. The Women’s Shelter and Support Center, Olmsted County Victim Services, Legal Assistance of Olmsted County, law enforcement, social workers, Mayo Clinic and other medical providers refer clients to the association.

When someone is referred, the association provides resources directly or connects the victim to resources, when appropriate.

In the case of the woman who was working as a nanny and didn’t have money or travel documents, the association worked closely with her, coordinating medical appointments, immigration paperwork and English classes, and shopping for ethnic food reminiscent of her home country.

“We’ve connected her to human rights resources. She is pursuing a visa in the U.S.,” says Nisha Kurup, victim services program manager at the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association. “Her goal is to be eligible to work and live in the U.S. with dignity and self-respect. We are pleased to help her.”