Thursday, June 27, 2013
Man convicted of human trafficking in B.C. Filipino nanny case
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Housekeeper in New Jersey Accuses Peruvian Diplomat of Human Trafficking
Damon Winter/The New York Times
By KIRK SEMPLE
Published: June 25, 2013
A Peruvian woman has accused a top official at Peru’s mission to the United Nations of entrapping her in a life of involuntary servitude in the New Jersey suburbs, forcing her to work as many as 16 hours a day, 7 days a week for little or no compensation.
The woman, María Ríos Fun, said that the official, Marita Puertas Pulgar, first secretary of the Peruvian mission, and her partner, Alexis Aquino Albegrin, had promised her fair wages and a humane work schedule when they recruited her in Lima, Peru, last year to work in their house in Wayne, N.J., while Ms. Puertas was stationed at the United Nations.
But on her arrival, Ms. Ríos said, the couple subjected her to a grueling work schedule with one day off every six weeks and a campaign of intimidation and coercion.
Ms. Ríos, 40, filed a lawsuit last week in United States District Court in Newark accusing Ms. Puertas and Mr. Aquino of trafficking her for forced labor. “The defendants preyed on her vulnerability, isolated her, and required her to work long hours for virtually no pay,” the lawsuit said.
In a statement issued through their lawyer, Ms. Puertas and Mr. Aquino said, “We are surprised by the allegations by Ms. María Esmeralda Ríos Fun, which we reject categorically.”
The couple said they would refrain from further comment in order not to harm the judicial process.
Every year, thousands of foreigners are issued special visas to come to the United States and work for foreign diplomats. But immigrants’ advocates contend that some diplomats, behind the cover of diplomatic immunity, take advantage of those employees, violating local and federal labor laws and sometimes confining them to a form of modern-day slavery.
A report by the Government Accountability Office in 2008 found that since 2000 at least 42 foreigners brought to the United States to work as domestic workers said they were abused by their employers.
The authors of the survey asserted that their tally was likely an undercount because many victims were probably too fearful to speak up.
Ms. Ríos said in an interview that she had worked for Ms. Puertas and Mr. Aquino in Buenos Aires, where they were stationed in the early 2000s, and later in Lima, Peru. She had little complaint with their treatment of her during those years.
Before coming to the United States last October, she said, she signed a contract establishing the terms of her employment: She would work as a “housekeeper” seven hours a day, five days a week, at a wage of $9.82 per hour and overtime pay of $14.73 per hour. In addition, according to the lawsuit, she would be granted paid holidays, sick days and 15 paid vacation days per year, as well as three meals per day, six days per week.
But as soon as she arrived, Ms. Ríos said, her employers revealed hidden intentions. She said she was ordered not only to clean the two-story, four-bedroom house but also to cook for the couple and their four young children — the youngest of whom was 18 months old — and drive the older children to and from school. Amid her cleaning and cooking duties, she said, she would baby-sit for and change the infant, as well as care for house guests and tend to the garden.
Ms. Ríos’s work days often began at dawn and ended at 10 p.m., and she was given only “very basic food, like bread and coffee,” the lawsuit said. “Ms. Ríos Fun frequently was hungry.”
Instead of paying her the rate stipulated in the contract, she said, the couple told her they would pay her a flat rate of $900 a month, significantly less than her base salary not including overtime. Even so, Ms. Ríos said, they paid her only several hundred dollars each month after deducting money to cover the cost of clothing and toiletries they purchased for her.
She was given only four days off in six months, she said.
The couple isolated Ms. Ríos, who does not speak English, by forbidding her to leave the house except to drive the children to and from school, the lawsuit said. It also said that they subjected her to “verbal abuse and psychological coercion.”
On April 27, Ms. Ríos called a national human trafficking hot line that was listed in documents she had been given at the United States embassy in Lima. She fled and was eventually introduced to Safe Horizon, an agency in New York City that helps crime victims, which has provided her with counseling, shelter, legal representation and other support.
The lawsuit said Ms. Ríos was seeking the return of her belongings as well as unspecified back wages and damages for trafficking and breach of contract. She also might be eligible for a T visa, which is reserved for victims of human trafficking, said her lawyer, Dana Sussman, staff attorney for Safe Horizon’s anti-trafficking program.
“I don’t want others to go through what I did,” she said.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
This study shows how the legalization of prostitution would increase human trafficking.
Monday, June 24, 2013
All-or-Nothing Strategy on Women’s Equality Legislation Ends With Nothing
Published: June 23, 2013
In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomodescribed New York State as the “equality capital of the nation” and called on lawmakers to pass a 10-point Women’s Equality Act that would strengthen the state’s laws against sexual harassment, human trafficking, domestic violence and salary discrimination. Much of the legislation had widespread support.
Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
But after more than five months of advocacy by the governor — including a trip to Seneca Falls, a landmark of the women’s suffrage movement — lawmakers ended their annual session over the weekend without approving a single element of the proposal, in large part because one of the measure’s provisions would have strengthened abortion rights language in state law.
The bill’s failure followed an abrupt strategic shift in the final days of the session. Until then, Mr. Cuomo, as well as women’s right’s advocates and other Democratic elected officials, insisted that they would accept nothing less than the entire 10-point package, even if dropping the abortion language might allow them to win nine of the proposed provisions. But on Friday, the advocates splintered — Naral Pro-Choice New York stood by the all-or-nothing approach, while others, including Mr. Cuomo, urged accepting a partial victory — and the entire package sank.
The result has left many lawmakers disappointed.
“Women’s equality and health should not be compromised because of a political game of chicken,” said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a Queens Democrat, who opposed ceding any element of the package.
There was little agreement, even about the substance of the legislation: Mr. Cuomo and women’s rights advocates said it would simply codify in state law the right already guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, but abortion opponents said it would expand the availability of abortions.
The Assembly, controlled by Democrats, voted for the entire package, but the Senate, controlled by a coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats, approved only the nine provisions not about abortion. When the leader of the independent faction of Democrats, Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, tried to attach the abortion language to a bill on medical records, the effort failed by one vote.
Some advocates of the legislation now want the Assembly to come back and approve the non-abortion measures, even while hoping to strengthen abortion law at some other time. The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, has not ruled that out.
“The bottom line is the other nine points provide important protections for women in the workplace and in the community,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, “and it’s a disappointment that with such broad support, and such broad bipartisan support, those have yet to become law.”
But some lawmakers were adamant that the abortion issue was inseparable from other women’s rights concerns.
“I think it’s inappropriate and unfair to leave out women’s health when you’re claiming to be an advocate for all these other parts of a woman’s life,” said Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, a Hudson Valley Democrat who is a former board member of Planned Parenthood of New York City and Naral. “They’re all really important, but if a woman can’t make choices about her own body and her own reproductive health, you’re really not delivering equality in these other areas.”
In addition to the abortion language, the legislation, according to the Cuomo administration, would have banned sexual harassment in workplaces with fewer than four employees. It would also have banned employers from denying jobs or promotions to workers because they have children, bar landlords from discriminating against victims of domestic violence, and increase potential damage payments in pay equity discrimination cases.
Opponents of abortion said the collapse of the legislation demonstrated that the only issue of concern to the bill’s champions was abortion.
“That’s what we were saying from Day 1: that this was just a smoke screen for abortion expansion, and the only reason they were bundled together was for political reasons, which we found unconscionable,” said Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference.
“It would have been very nice to see these other pieces pass, but their agenda is abortion,” he added. “They couldn’t get that, so they torpedoed the whole thing.”
One thing is certain: the abortion issue will be a prominent one in next year’s legislative elections. Naral Pro-Choice New York ran an independent-expenditure campaign for some candidates in 2012, and Andrea Miller, its president, said, “One of the things that this made crystal clear, and probably one of the most important things that this session demonstrated, is what our roadblock is, and that roadblock is the State Senate.”
Mr. Cuomo, through a spokeswoman, said he believed the debate had advanced the topic of women’s rights, and that now it was up to voters to respond.
“Issues that have long been nonstarters in the Legislature, including stronger laws against human trafficking, sexual harassment in the workplace, income inequality and other critically important protections, are now in their strongest position in years to become law,” said the spokeswoman, Melissa DeRosa. “In the end, the public will hold individual legislators accountable if they stand in the way of finally achieving equality for women in New York State.”