Labor Trafficking Victim: “This Happened in the United States”

There's no question that Given Kachepa won't answer when it comes to his past. But when students in a human trafficking class at Texas Christian University asked him to sing, he politely told them, he'd rather not. In 1998, a then 11-year-old Kachepa, loved to sing.

It was his voice that caught the attention of a visiting pastor named Keith Grimes. Grimes handpicked him to come to the United States and join his prestigious acapella boys choir. The group of 12 traveled across the United States. They performed in malls, churches and schools.

"It was exciting, at the same time leaving our family members behind...was difficult," said Kachepa.

As payment for his singing, Kachepa was promised free education, money to send home, and a school built in his village. While the choir performed, the ministry handed out baskets that normally came back full of cash. Kachepa says the ministry kept almost all of the money.

"Our families did receive a monthly stipend but it was only $20 a month and we were singing four to seven concert today."

When asked if the ministry was every physically or verbally abusive, Kachepa said, "never physically, they never hit us. Verbal, yes... if you don't sing we're going to deport you back home to your home country, and when we were at the home-base, they would turn off the gas for the stove so we couldn't cook and that would go on for a day or two, said Kachepa."

Kachepa says the abusive treatment lasted nine months. When some of the singers eventually refused to perform, the ministry called immigration. They tried to have them deported back to Zambia.

"...on the way to the airport they started telling their side of the story and that's when the INS agent said 'This doesn't seem like what the ministry told me.'"

Federal investigators eventually took the boys into custody. Keith Grimes was criminally investigated. The Department of Labor ruled his ministry owed the choir close to $1 million in back-wages. All of the boys were adopted by families in the United States. Kachepa's family lived in Colleyville.

"If I didn't believe this is going to change my life my family's life, that I was gonna change my community, I would've never come to the United States," said Kachepa.

According to statistics from the National Trafficking Hotline, Texas ranks number two when it comes to labor trafficking, only behind California. The vast majority of victims are women by about six to one. Of those, almost half of the cases are minors.

"There's a lot of things in Texas that I think lend itself to labor trafficking," said Dr Vanessa Bouche, an assistant professor of political science at TCU.

Bouche has been researching human trafficking in Texas for almost a decade. She says new construction and agriculture, like produce and livestock, drive Texas' demand for cheap labor.

"Many of these individuals come to the United States, they don't speak the language, they are told that if they try to go to the police that nobody's gonna do anything for them anyway, said Bouche."

Although it was his voice that brought him to America, Kachepa says getting an education kept him here. Two years ago he launched his own dental practice in Dallas.

"A lot of times when I tell people that I'm a modern-day slave they think, oh you're probably used in Africa and then you came here as a refugee or something like that. I tell them no, this happened in the United States."

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