Jan 22

Filipina victims of labor trafficking in New York sue former employers

NEW YORK – Leticia Moratal and Jacqueline Aguirre spoke out together for the first time Tuesday, Jan 18 at the Bayanihan Center in Queens, to share their plight and discuss how their dreams of a better life in America were dashed when they became alleged victims of labor trafficking.

While their cases are different, both women have sued their former employers for alleged violations of Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), New York Labor Law and common law.

In between tears, Moratal and Aguirre recounted how they found themselves in these difficult situations.

Moratal arrived in New York in 2001 on a B-1 visa to work as a babysitter for a Filipino family, and was promised a monthly salary of $800. She was later taken to Florida to work in the home of the couple’s daughter. This was when her nightmare began.

For close to 10 years, Moratal said she worked long hours as a babysitter to the grandchild of a Filipino couple. She also cooked, cleaned, did the laundry and yard work for the household, yet she claims she was never paid by the family.

Moratal said she was subjected to cruel treatment and psychological abuse, being called slave and made to sleep in the stock room or the baby’s bedroom floor.

“I used to cry myself to sleep every night because of my situation. They took all my human rights. They even changed my name to Baba. One day, the girl I was taking care of returned from school with her friends. She introduced me to her friends as ‘Baba, my slave’. All I can do then was to pray,” Moratal recalled.

In 2009, Moratal was sent back to live with the elder couple in Jamaica, New York. Her fate changed when her aunt Maria Garri traced where she lived. Last month, Moratal escaped from her employer’s home.

Through Attorney Felix Vinluan, an immigration lawyer and a human rights advocate, Moratal filed a case against the family she worked for on December 28, 2010. The case was filed at the New York Eastern District Court in Brooklyn.

Through the lawsuit, Moratal is demanding damages from her employer for human trafficking, involuntary servitude, unlawful conduct, fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation, emotional distress, wage violations, unjust enrichment and conspiracy.

Vinluan said he is also filing a U-Visa for Moratal as a victim of human trafficking so she could legalize her status and work in New York.

Jacqueline Aguirre, on the other hand, took an accountancy position in 2001 at a nurse staffing agency in Floral Park, New York, upon verbal agreement with the owners that the company would sponsor her green card and pay her $19 an hour for a 40-hour work week.

Aguirre said she was misled to believe that her sponsor had the financial capability to sponsor her green card. She added that the owners knew that the company was not earning sufficient net income to cover for the offered wage rate and did not have the financial capability to pay Aguirre’s offered wage. As such, her application for green card was denied and she is currently subject to removal proceedings by the US Department of Homeland Security for overstaying.

Moratal is seeking overdue compensation of back-wages totaling up to $250,000 while Aguirre seeks back-wages worth at least $100,000, as well as for damages related to their abuse and maltreatment.

Community Support

The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), a national alliance committed to protecting the rights and welfare of Filipinos in the U.S., is standing behind the pursuit of justice for Moratal and Aguirre.

“We would like to say that Ms. Moratal and Ms. Aguirre have inspired us at NAFCON to recommit ourselves in the basic human rights of our community members and to further strive to protect their rights and welfare now that they are in this predicament,” Rusty Fabunan, NAFCON’s representative said.

“With 4,500 Filipinos in average leaving the country everyday, these injustices happen a lot among our kababayans in different parts of the world, but only a few have the courage to speak out. We are glad and inspired that these two strong Filipinas who have withstood these abuses for a long time are now willing to step up and stand up for their rights,” said Lorena Sanchez of the KABALIKAT Domestic Workers’ Support Network, a member organization of NAFCON based in New York.

Moratal and Aguirre are being represented by Atty. Felix Vinluan of the Filipino-American Foundation for Immigration and Employment Advocacy, Inc. (Fil-Am Foundation).

“Leticia and Jacqueline are heroes for stepping forward courageously to fight common injustices inflicted upon foreign workers in this country—labor trafficking and modern-day slavery,” Vinluan said. “It is NAFCON’s hope that their example helps other trafficking victims living in fear to come forward and, with community support, fight for justice.”

For Moratal, it is all about getting her story out there so that nobody becomes a victim.

“I don’t want this to happen to anybody who is coming here to America, especially among Filipinos. It is unacceptable,” she said.

(www.asianjournal.com)

(NYNJ Jan 21-27, 2011 Sec A pg. 1)

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