Month: February 2011
They have initiated class action lawsuit for human trafficking
Over 500 Indian citizens who were brought to the United States to work in shipyards, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, have initiated what might well become the largest class action lawsuit for human trafficking in U.S. history.
According to a statement by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has joined in the lawsuit in support of the plaintiffs, the workers were trafficked into the U.S. through the federal government’s H-2B guest-worker scheme “with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent U.S. residents and subjected to squalid living conditions, fraudulent payment practices, and threats of serious harm upon their arrival.”
The court filing by the plaintiffs alleges that recruiting agents employed by the marine industry company Signal International withheld the guest-workers’ passports, forced them to pay exorbitant fees for recruitment, immigration processing and travel, and threatened the workers with serious legal and physical consequences if they did not abide by restrictive employment conditions imposed by the company.
Further, the complaint against Signal International alleges that after they arrived in the U.S., the men were compelled to live in the company’s “guarded, overcrowded labour camps, subjected to psychological abuse and defrauded out of adequate payment for their work.”
In a statement, the ACLU said it was also charging the federal government with falling short of its responsibility to protect the rights of guest-workers in the country. According to the lawsuit that it filed along with the workers, the treatment of the workers violated the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
In comments made to the ACLU, Kurian David, a class representative in the lawsuit, said: “We hope the court will give us all a chance to make our voices heard and to right the wrongs that were done against us. Signal and the other defendants should be held accountable for what they did to so many guest-workers who worked for them.”
Further, the ACLU quoted Murugan Kandhasamy, a class representative in the lawsuit, as saying: “I speak on behalf of hundreds of Indian guest-workers subjected to abuse by Signal and its co-conspirators. We came to America for good jobs and opportunity, which we were denied, and now we are asking for justice.”
An ACLU Human Rights Programme attorney, Chandra Bhatnagar, noted that the workers had been “victimised by systemic deficiencies in the U.S. guest-worker program and subjected to trafficking and racketeering at the hands of the defendants,” adding that they would be seeking to assert their fundamental human rights.
by Lisa Chavarria and Brad Woodard / 11 News
Posted on February 17, 2011 at 8:41 AM
Updated Thursday, Feb 17 at 6:26 PM
HOUSTON – The owners of a local bar and restaurant are among 10 people accused of bringing young Mexican women and girls to Houston and forcing them into prostitution, U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno said Thursday.
The 10 defendants were taken into custody during an overnight raid at the La Costenita night club and El Club Restaurante, located in the 8300 block of Clinton Drive.
“I applaud the bravery of the young lady who made the 911 call for help in this case, and commend the efforts of the agency members of the HTRA for the investigative efforts to rescue the victims in this case and apprehend their oppressors,” Moreno said.
The three-count indictment against the defendants was returned by a Houston grand jury on Tuesday and was unsealed Thursday.
“The crimes alleged in this indictment are unconscionable,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard C. Powers.
“While we can’t erase the harm done by these horrible acts, the FBI and other members of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance will continue to ensure the victims of these crimes are protected and their traffickers are brought to justice.”
Maria Rojas, 46, one of the owners of the bar and restaurant, and her 38-year-old brother, Jose Luis Rojas, who operated La Costenita and adjacent properties, are accused of conspiring to hold persons in conditions of peonage and recruiting, holding, transporting and providing and obtaining persons for sexual services.
According to the indictment, Maria and Jose Rojas were involved in the recruitment of Mexican nationals, ages ranging from 14 to 30, to travel to the U.S. with the false expectation of legitimate jobs in bars and restaurants, beginning in 1999. Once the women arrived, the indictment alleges that the suspects used force, fraud and coercion to compel the women to work as prostitutes at their businesses.
“Their families back home are under threat,” said Deputy Adrian Garcia with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s put into the minds of these women if they don’t cooperate, if they do have family back home terrible and horrible things will happen to them.
The indictment also alleges that beginning in 2003, the conspirators changed their tactics and began relying on pimps to provide the girls and young women and to keep them from escaping.
Maria and Jose Rojas are accused of initially making their profits by doubling the amount of the smuggling fee charged by coyotes, which was then taken from the earnings of the women. When the operation changed to include pimps, the Rojas siblings allegedly collected $15 from each deal made by the prostitutes.
“They’ve found a way to keep them in perpetual debt,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez. That dress they bought them for $15 is suddenly a $100 dress. The food they provide, instead of $10, it’s $50.”
The conspiracy charge levied against Maria and Jose Rojas carries a statutory penalty of up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.
The remaining eight defendants are Javier Guevara Belmontes, 46; Maday Martinez Lindero, 34; Evelin Carloine Aguera, 37; Claudia Perez Ramirez, 27; Silvano Santos, 33; Francisco Midardi Maradiaga, 33; Olvan Renieri Ramirez Caceres, 25; and Aleyda Maria Juares, 27.
Investigators said Belmontes also owned, controlled and operated La Costenita and El Club Restaurante. Martinez and Aguera were allegedly managers at La Costenita and at the adjacent property where the prostitutes would take their dates. Ramirez, Santos, Jimenez and Caceres allegedly worked as lookouts to warn of police presence. Investigators said Juares charged the victims for condoms and the use of the rooms at the adjacent property.
Those eight defendants, along with the Rojas siblings, are charged with conspiring to harbor illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain. If convicted of that offense, the defendants could be sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Maria Rojas is also charged in the third and last count of the indictment with illegal re-entry into the United States after deportation, which carries a maximum statutory penalty of two years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.
“Human and sex trafficking is modern-day slavery and it’s happening right here in our own back yard,” said Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. “These indictments prove that we will not tolerate it and that we will pursue the individuals involved in this kind of crime to the furthest extent of the law. These arrests, while they’re just the tip of the iceberg, are an example of the results that working together diligently with local and federal agencies can produce.”
Houston, because of its proximity to Mexico, has become a hub of sorts.
“We have an international airport, we’re an international city,” said Steven Goff with the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition. “It’s easy to blend in. Our proximity to Mexico, we also have a huge commercially-oriented sexual business industry here in Houston.”
Maria and Jose Luis Rojas, Maday Martinez Lindero, Silvano Santos and Claudia Perez Ramirez are Mexican nationals. Four others—Evelin Carolina Aguero, Olvan Renieri Ramirez Caceres, Aleyda Maria Juares and Francisco Maradiaga Jimenez—are Honduran nationals. Javier Guevara Belmontes is a legal permanent U.S. resident originally from Mexico.
The defendants all made initial court appearances Thursday and were scheduled to appear at a detention hearing Friday afternoon.
The case was investigated by the FBI, ICE, Harris Co. Sheriff’s Office, The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Texas Attorney General’s Office; the Department of State – Diplomatic Security Service, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department.
Feb 17, 2011
By Blair Tellers – Gilroy Dispatch
A human trafficking victim held in a Gilroy warehouse and abused sexually for nine months will receive the Healing Hearts award from Community Solutions on March 18 at the Morgan Hill Cultural Center at 17000 Monterey Rd.
Emelen Recillas will be honored with the award, which recognizes individuals overcoming significant barriers and challenges who are now leading healthy and productive lives, according to Perla Flores, director of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking programs for Community Solutions.
In 1997, Recillas was a 21-year-old immigrant when she came to the United States to work at a restaurant/bar in Morgan Hill which is now closed, Flores said.
“She was tricked into coming into the United States,” said Flores. “They told her she would be working in someone’s restaurant, but she was forced into a situation of sexual confrontation and prostitution.”
Flores said the 34-year-old Hollister resident was under the impression she would be earning her keep as a waitress, but was instead forced into prostitution with men at the establishment in order to repay her “debt.”
Flores said when Recillas wasn’t working, she stayed inside a dimly lit, padlocked warehouse with one barred window and 31 other women at 7373 Monterey St.
The building is now unoccupied.
Recillas found a way out of her situation nine months later when the restaurant was shut down, according to Flores.
One day, Flores said the truck that picked the women up for work every day didn’t show up, and Recillas later learned the bar was shut down.
Recillas never saw the restaurant owner again, according Flores.
Flores said Recillas later reported her story to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2009 after watching a TV special on human trafficking and realizing she had been a victim. “It’s not just the typical restraints, or guards,” said Flores, explaining why Recillas didn’t just “escape” while she was at work.
“There’s also the emotional component to it.” Flores explained the man who recruited Recillas knew where she came from, knew her family and threatened to harm those she loved if Recillas ever fled. “When they would call back home,” someone would monitor their phone calls,” said Flores. “And in their home county, law enforcement is corrupt … there are a lot of ways to control someone without having to shackle them.” Flores said
Recillas and the other captive women feared deportation if they went to the police. “There are those tangible ways to control someone against their will, but emotional issues come into play as well,” she said.
Recillas is now eligible for the same benefits as a refugee, according to Flores, such as health and gaining vocational skills.
Flores said Recillas is proactive and determined to do whatever she can, but also explained law enforcement does not have enough evidence to charge anyone at this point.
According Sgt. Wes Stanford of the Gilroy Police Department no reports have been filed concerning these circumstances.
Calls made to the Morgan Hill Police Department pertaining to Chiquis restaurant were not returned at time of publication.
Community Solutions provides treatment, intervention in mental health, assisting victims in child abuse and domestic violence among other programs to help communities from South San Jose to San Benito County.
Flores’ department works daily to raise community awareness about preventing domestic violence and human trafficking and interacts daily with victims.
Blair Tellers Blair Tellers is a staff writer for the Gilroy Dispatch. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 847-7158.
Monday February 7, 2011
Nurses and physicians generally lack knowledge about indicators of human trafficking when they encounter victims during their shifts, according to a new report.
Published in the February edition of the American Journal of Nursing, the report suggests ways in which clinicians can recognize the signs of trafficking and intervene to help victims.
Categories of human trafficking include sex trafficking, labor trafficking — such as debt bondage, forced labor and indentured servitude — and trafficking in child soldiers.
The report cites a study by the Family Violence Prevention Fund of 21 survivors of human trafficking in the San Francisco, Los Angeles and Atlanta areas. Researchers found 28% of the survivors had come into contact with healthcare providers while in captivity, but the providers did not realize their patients were being trafficked.
“Although there has been an increase in the number of non-governmental organizations that address trafficking issues and a growing public awareness over the last decade, many people, including healthcare professionals, remain uninformed about the problem,” said the report’s author, Donna Sabella, assistant clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University, Philadelphia, and director of education for the National Research Consortium on Commercial Sexual Exploitation.
“As the largest group of health professionals, and therefore the ones most likely to encounter trafficking victims, nurses are in a position to help intervene at several points — from the initial encounter when we can identify the situation to the victim’s rescue and restoration to health.”
According to the report, between 600,000 and 800,000 adults and children are trafficked across international borders, including 14,500 to 17,500 into the United States. An unknown number of victims are U.S. citizens, according to the report, and the majority are women and girls.
According to the report, nurses should be aware of the following signs that indicate possible trafficking and take appropriate steps to have the matter investigated:
• The person does not speak fluent English and someone else is speaking for him or her.
• The person appears disoriented.
• The person has no identification or travel documents or someone else is holding the documents.
• The person has no spending money.
• The person appears to be under the control and supervision of someone else who never leaves the person alone.
• There are signs of malnutrition, dehydration, drug use or addiction, poor general health or poor personal hygiene.
• There are signs of physical abuse or neglect, such as scars, bruises, burns, unusual bald patches, tattoos that raise suspicion (for example, “Property of —” or gang-like symbols), or untreated medical problems.
• The person appears depressed, frightened, anxious, or otherwise distressed.
• The person’s story about what he or she is doing in this country or on the job does not make sense.
• The person lives with an employer or at the place of business and cannot give you an address.
• Those who brought the person in for treatment are resistant to letting you speak with the person alone.
“Nurses have traditionally received little training in recognizing victims and understanding how to effectively intervene,” said Maureen Shawn Kennedy, RN, MA, editor-in-chief of AJN. “It’s critical that nurses and other healthcare providers become knowledgeable in this area, because the time when a trafficking victim presents with a health problem may be one of the only chances that victim will have to get help.”
Read the full report at www.ajnonline.com and listen to a podcast interview of the author as part of AJN’s “Behind the Article” series offering insight and additional information related to the report.
If you suspect that someone is a trafficking victim and are unsure how to proceed, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline: 1-888-3737-888.