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Outrageous Stories of Abuse as Immunity Shields Diplomats in the US From Trafficking Women

The founder of the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center puts it, “Diplomatic immunity is not a license to traffic, but it’s pretty close.”

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Ramos was demeaned by frequent requests to do superfluous work. If the diplomat found her awake, he would create a task to be done, like rolling cigarettes.

She lived under constant surveillance. Her mail was read and when she was sent to the supermarket, her boss called to verify where she was.

“I worked like a horse,” she says. “Even when I am in the bathroom, my male employer would call me to make a cigarette for him. I thought hard about speaking up, desperately wanting to tell them that I can’t take it anymore.”

But without her passport, she felt powerless.

Ramos toiled this way for eight months, earning 69 cents an hour.

No diplomat has ever been suspended

In 2008, a Government Accountability Office investigation identified 42 household workers who alleged they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity eight years prior. The report noted the true number was likely higher, as victims too frightened to name their abusers could not be counted. Due to this fear of retaliation,  The Washington Spectator granted anonymity to sources who requested it.

“It was important for us to get a number of documented allegations to get a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” says the GAO’s Tom Melito, one of the authors of the report. “Most parties were surprised the number was as large as it was.”

Yet organizations working with trafficked people believe we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg. The Damayan Migrant Workers Association in Manhattan has helped 11 workers in the past four years, just in the Filipino community.

“The numbers fail to capture the true scale of this problem,” Damayan’s campaign coordinator, Leah Obias, says. “There’s this vast underestimation of these workers as people, and their intelligence. They’re brought here and completely lied to and made to fear everything. Knowing that something is wrong, and not being able to do something about it, is traumatic and leaves emotional scars.”

Members of Damayan who have been trafficked are now helping others. Ramos found help at the children’s playground after a fellow Filipina told her about her rights under U.S. labor law and gave her Damayan’s phone number. She later won an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed sum. In keeping with the terms of that agreement, Ramos would not provide the identity of the Kuwaiti who brought her to the U.S.

“People often don’t think about visa holders being victims of abuse,” says New England Law School professor Dina Haynes. “In diplomatic cases, the victim is both afraid of losing their job and of being deported.”

Diplomats bring personal staff to the U.S. on A3 and G5 visas, which tie the workers to one employer, the diplomat who sponsors them.

There is a history of abuse. A Saudi princess pushed an Indonesian worker down a flight of stairs in Florida. A Filipino ambassador to the U.N. enslaved a domestic worker in his family’s Upper East Side home. And a Tanzanian minister, Alan S. Mzengi, made a woman shovel snow barefoot in Washington, D.C.

Some countries, such as Kuwait, India and Tanzania, have abused the visa program multiple times. By law, the U.S. Secretary of State has a duty to suspend A3 and G5 visas to foreign missions that have exploited workers on American soil.

No country has ever been suspended.

‘We follow all relevant law’

This cannot be for a lack of evidence. The U.S. has on numerous occasions permitted victims of abuse by foreign diplomats to stay in the country on special T visas that are restricted to survivors of “severe” human trafficking.

 
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