The “American Dream” is one of prosperity, opportunities and equality, but for Filipina migrant workers in the US Leticia Moratal and Jacqueline Aguirre, what they have experienced is exactly the opposite.
Moratal and Aguirre, victims of human trafficking in New York, have sought the help of a Filipino migrants’ organization there in suing their former employers, whom they accused of forced labor.
In a press conference in Woodside, Queens in New York City this week, the two Filipina workers recounted their ordeal at the hands of their employers, as the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) vowed to assist the two in their legal battle.
“I did not receive a single penny from my employers. They did not treat me well and they turned me into a slave. They even confiscated my passport and I was not allowed to talk to other Filipinos, nor use the phone or computer to communicate with anybody,” Moratal said in a release.
Ten years of unpaid work
Moratal arrived in New York in 2001 on a B-1 visa supposedly to work as a baby sitter, but was made an all-around domestic worker by fellow Filipinos Elsa and Augusto Nolasco, and their daughter Laarni.
Moratal was promised a monthly salary of salary of US$800, which she said she never once received after almost ten years of working.
In a separate article on the Filipino-American community news site Asian Journal, Moratal narrated that she was later taken to Florida to work in the home of the couple’s daughter to take care of their baby granddaughter.
Moratal described how she was subjected to cruel treatment and psychological abuse, saying the family used to call her a slave and made her sleep in the stock room or on the floor of the baby’s room.
“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 the article.
In 2009, Moratal was brought back to the house of the Filipino couple in Jamaica, New York, where her aunt was able to track her down. She finally escaped from her employers’ home in December 2010.
Through Felix Vinluan, an immigration lawyer and human rights advocate, Moratal sued the Nolascos before the New York Eastern District Court in Brooklyn for human trafficking, involuntary servitude, unlawful conduct, and wage violations, among others.
Vinluan is also filing a U-Visa for Moratal as a victim of human trafficking so she can legalize her status and work in New York.
On the other hand, Aguirre, an accountant in the Philippines, said she was given an accountancy position and promised a green card by employers Dorothy de Castro and Perlita Jordan, owners of Best Care Agency.
She was, however, made to work as a one-woman office worker, was denied the $19 per hour she was as promised, and was forced to do overtime work without payment.
Aguirre’s application for a green card was subsequently denied, as her employers did not have the financial capacity to sponsor her. She is currently the subject of removal proceedings by the US Department of Homeland Security for overstaying.
Moratal is seeking compensation for back-wages amounting to $250,000, while Aguirre, also represented by Vinluan, seeks back-wages of at least $100,000, as well as for damages related to their abuse and maltreatment.
“Some people say I should just go back home to the Philippines or I should just hide from the authorities, but why should I? I know I never did anything wrong,” said Aguirre.
During the press conference, Filipino migrants’ group NAFCON, an alliance of Filipino migrant organizations across 23 cities in the US, renewed its efforts against human trafficking as it relaunched its Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) Campaign.
The STOP Campaign was first launched in 2002 by one of NAFCON’s member organizations, Philippine Forum, a not-profit community-based organization in New York, when a domestic worker sued her employers for human trafficking.
With the support of the community and after years of struggle, domestic worker Elma Manliguez was finally granted the first T-visa, issued to human trafficking victims, in New York in 2009.
She was then able to come home to the Philippines to see her child whom she had not seen since she left the Philippines in 1997.
NAFCON member organizations include the Philippine Forum, KABALIKAT Domestic Workers’ Support Network, New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), Anakbayan New York/New Jersey, SANDIWA National Alliance of Filipino-American Youth and Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE).
2.9 million Pinoys in US
“More than 4,000 Filipinos leave the country everyday to search for jobs in other places, and hundreds more are being trafficked as a result of the Philippine government’s lack of attention on the issues of our migrant workers,” said NAFCON’s Rusty Fabunan.
“Leticia (Moratal) and Jackie (Aguirre) are only 2 of them, but these two voices will be echoed by the community and they will get the justice they deserve if we all work together. Collective action never fails,” he added.
For its part, Philippines-based Migrante International said it will assist in contacting the families of Moratal and Aguirre, and in pressuring the government to assist the two in their cases.
The concentration of Filipino migrants in the US remains the highest at almost 2.9 million as of December 2009, according to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.
While fewer overseas Filipino workers are choosing the US as their destination country, the US remains the top source of OFW remittances at US$7.3 billion in 2009, or over 40 percent of the total US$17.3 billion in OFW remittances from across the world for the same year. — TJD