The Star-News


Cross border crusader

Sat, Nov 23 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Robert Moreno

An unidentified 14 year-old girl first became a victim of human trafficking at the age of two.

She had no education, she didn’t know to read or write, and was exposed to drugs before her teenage years.

The girl was forced into prostitution against her will.

Another teenage girl, this one from Tijuana, was sold for $200 at the age of 13 to a criminal in San Diego; her perpetrator had her in a forced marriage and used her for labor exploitation. On several occasions she was even raped.

These are the testimonies of some of the human trafficking victims at Casa de Jardin.

It is victims like these that cause Eastlake resident Alma Tucker, 50, to commute every morning across the Mexican border.

Tucker, the president and CEO of the binational organization International Network of Hearts, travels the nearly 20 miles a day, to run Casa de Jardin, a safehouse for victims of human trafficking, located in an undisclosed area in Tijuana.

Tucker is using her experience as a former employee at the Mexican consulate in San Diego to run the house, which opened in June.

Tucker said the goal for these victims at the house, is to one day, be part of society again.

“It is very important for us to give them the tools to one day integrate into society, in a healthy way,” Tucker said.

“That’s our goal: for no more children to go through this.”

These victims come to the house as part of an agreement with the district attorneys’ offices in Tijuana and San Diego.
The district attorney rescues the victims and sends them to the home to get the care they need.

Casa de Jardin is a four-unit complex that was once an apartment building.

The house holds up to 12 people, it currently houses eight girls, all are minors.

In the first unit is where all the services take place. This is where counseling sessions occur, doctor appointments are made and social workers meet with the victims.

The second unit, which is still a work in progress, is a housing unit solely for minors.  The safehouse is for boys and girls, men and women.

Once a victim turns 18, they transfer to the adult section of the house in unit three.

The last unit is for the school, and where volunteers go for training. A storage unit for clothes is also located here.

Under Mexican law, minors must be in the program until 18 years-of-age.

Once they turn 18, they have the option to live on their own back in society or continue living and getting treatment at the safe house, Tucker said.

Assisting Tucker is an around the clock 20-member staff that includes life coaches, social workers, attorneys and doctors.

Four security guards are on the premise 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to not only protect the property, but

Tucker said to protect the young girls from themselves.

“Sometimes they want to runaway and many of the times they are afraid to be there,” Tucker said. “Because somebody told them ‘if they are not coming back someone will get hurt, someone will die or they will be killed.’”

Arlene Gonzalez, event planner for the International Network of Hearts, started a running team with the girls called Princesas Corridores (Princess Runners).

She developed a running program that is designated with meeting a certain distance each time they run.

Gonzalez said the running program helps the victims in the recovery process. By reaching a certain distance on a run, it gives the girls a sense of accomplishment.

“Doing these runs shows that they’re willing to achieve something for themselves,” she said.

Gonzalez said she hopes to have the girls focus on running a 5K in the near future.

Victims at the house are required to attend school. The school is located on Casa de Jardin grounds.

Just recently Tucker’s organization held an electric run in Tijuana, where runners ran at night decorated in glow sticks.

The event raised $130,000 pesos or $10,000 for the non-profit organization.

The name Casa de Jardin, roughly translated means garden house,  represents the victims in the safe house, Tucker said.  “Our flowers are those girls that are starting a new life,” she said.


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