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Archive for the ‘Domestic Workers’ Category

January 27, 2011
ICE:  Immigration Customs Enforcement

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – David B. Fein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced today that Anthony DiBenedetto, 64, of North Branford, Conn., waived his right to indictment and pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of unlawful employment of illegal aliens. This guilty plea is the result of an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

According to court documents and statements made in court, DiBenedetto owns and operates Rocco’s Bakery, with locations in New Haven and Meriden, Conn. From approximately 2000 through May 2008, DiBenedetto employed at least 10 individuals at his bakeries knowing that they were in the country unlawfully and were not authorized to work.

U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz has scheduled sentencing for April 14, 2011, at which time DiBenedetto faces a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000. DiBenedetto also may be ordered to forfeit a money judgment in an amount that will be determined by the court.

This matter has been investigated by ICE HSI and the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas P. Morabito.

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Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, June 4, 2010

An Arlington, Texas, couple was sentenced today by U.S. District Court Judge John H. McBryde for forcing a Nigerian widow to perform domestic labor for them for more than eight years. Emmanuel Nnaji, 50, a naturalized citizen of the United States was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Ngozi Ihechere Nnaji, 40, a citizen of Nigeria, was sentenced to nine years in prison. The defendants were also ordered to pay $305,957.60 in restitution.

On Feb. 2, 2010, both defendants were convicted by a Ft. Worth, Texas, jury on all charges, including conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor, conspiracy to harbor an alien for financial gain, harboring an alien for financial gain, document servitude and false statements to an FBI agent.

According to evidence presented at trial, the victim, a widowed mother of six children, including a chronically ill child, was recruited in Nigeria with promises that her children would be cared for in exchange for her work in the United States.

Upon arrival in the United States, the defendants confiscated the victim’s passport and never returned it. For more than eight years, the victim cared for the defendants’ children day and night, and cooked and cleaned with no days off. The defendants did not allow the victim out unsupervised; prohibited her from speaking with her children on the phone unsupervised; and forbid her to make friends or converse with the defendants’ friends. According to evidence at trial, the victim also testified that Emmanuel Nnaji also sexually assaulted her. Although the victim was promised that her family would be cared for, her family received a total of about $300 over the eight years. When the victim asked to return to Nigeria, the defendants refused. The victim was ultimately rescued with the assistance of a Catholic priest.

“The involuntary servitude and mistreatment that this victim endured is intolerable in a nation founded on freedom and individual rights,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The prosecution of this case demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to punishing those who prey upon vulnerable victims and exploit them in modern day slavery.”

“The FBI is committed to aggressively pursuing and brining to justice the human traffickers who prey upon others who are only seeking to better their lives,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Casey Jr., FBI Dallas. “The sentencing in this case sends a strong message to those who are engaged in this heinous form of modern day slavery that this practice will not be tolerated in our community.”

The case was investigated by the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Susan L. French and Michael J. Frank of the Civil Rights Division and its Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, with assistance of Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Michael Worley of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas. Refugee Services of Texas provided assistance to the victim following her rescue.

United States Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division

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Friday 07 May 2010

 

San Francisco, California – Federal immigration authorities have pressured one of San Francisco’s major building service companies, ABM, into firing hundreds of its own workers. Some 475 janitors have been told that unless they can show legal immigration status, they will lose their jobs in the near future.

ABM has been a union company for decades, and many of the workers have been there for years. “They’ve been working in the buildings downtown for 15, 20, some as many as 27 years,” said Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees Local 87. “They’ve built homes. They’ve provided for their families. They’ve sent their kids to college. They’re not new workers. They didn’t just get here a year ago.”

Nevertheless, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security has told ABM that they have flagged the personnel records of those workers. Weeks ago, ICE agents sifted through Social Security records and the I-9 immigration forms all workers have to fill out when they apply for jobs. They then told ABM that the company had to fire 475 workers who were accused of lacking legal immigration status.

ABM is one of the largest building service companies in the country, and it appears that union janitorial companies are the targets of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement program. “Homeland Security is going after employers that are union,” Miranda charged. “They’re going after employers that give benefits and are paying above the average.”

Last October, 1,200 janitors working for ABM were fired in similar circumstances in Minneapolis. In November, over 100 janitors working for Seattle Building Maintenance lost their jobs. Minneapolis janitors belong to SEIU Local 26, Seattle janitors to Local 6 and San Francisco janitors to Local 87.

President Obama said sanctions enforcement targets employers “who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages – and oftentimes mistreat those workers.” An ICE Worksite Enforcement Advisory claimed, “unscrupulous employers are likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions.”

Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers who endure them doesn’t help the workers or change the conditions, however. And despite Obama’s contention that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, employers are rewarded for cooperating with ICE by being immunized from prosecution. Javier Murillo, president of SEIU Local 26, said, “The promise made during the audit is that if the company cooperates and complies, they won’t be fined. So this kind of enforcement really only hurts workers.”

ICE Director John Morton said the agency is auditing the records of 1,654 companies nationwide. “What kind of economic recovery goes with firing thousands of workers?” Miranda asked. “Why don’t they target employers who are not paying taxes, who are not obeying safety or labor laws?”

The San Francisco janitors are now faced with an agonizing dilemma. Should they turn themselves in to Homeland Security, which might charge them with providing a bad Social Security number to their employer, and even hold them for deportation? For workers with families, homes and deep roots in a community, it’s not possible to just walk away and disappear. “I have a lot of members who are single mothers whose children were born here,” Miranda said. “I have a member whose child has leukemia. What are they supposed to do? Leave their children here and go back to Mexico and wait? And wait for what?”

Miranda’s question reflects not just the dilemma facing individual workers, but of 12 million undocumented people living in the United States. Since 2005, successive congress members, senators and administrations have dangled the prospect of gaining legal status in front of those who lack it. In exchange, their various schemes for immigration reform have proposed huge new guest worker programs, and a big increase in exactly the kind of enforcement now directed at 475 San Francisco janitors.

While the potential criminalization of undocumented people in Arizona continues to draw headlines, the actual punishment of workers because of their immigration status has become an increasingly bitter fact of life across the country.

President Obama, condemning Arizona’s law that would make being undocumented a state crime, said it would “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.” But then he announced his support for legislation with guest worker programs and increased enforcement.

The country is no closer to legalization of the undocumented than it was ten years ago. But the enforcement provisions of the comprehensive immigration reform bills debated in Congress over the last five years have already been implemented on the ground. The Bush administration conducted a high-profile series of raids in which it sent heavily-armed agents into meatpacking plants and factories, held workers for deportation and sent hundreds to federal prison for using bad Social Security numbers.

After Barack Obama was elected president, immigration authorities said they’d follow a softer policy, using an electronic system to find undocumented people in workplaces. People working with bad Social Security numbers would be fired.

Ironically the Bush administration proposed a regulation that would have required employers to fire any worker who provided an employer with a Social Security number that didn’t match the SSA database. That regulation was then stopped in court by unions, the ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center. The Obama administration, however, is implementing what amounts to the same requirement, with the same consequence of thousands of fired workers.

Union leaders like Miranda see a conflict between the rhetoric used by the president and other Washington, DC, politicians and lobbyists in condemning the Arizona law, and the immigration proposals they make in Congress. “There’s a huge contradiction here,” she said. “You can’t tell one state that what they’re doing is criminalizing people, and at the same time go after employers paying more than a living wage and the workers who have fought for that wage.”

Renee Saucedo, attorney for La Raza Centro Legal and former director of the San Francisco Day Labor Program, is even more critical. “Those bills in Congress, which are presented as ones that will help some people get legal status, will actually make things much worse,” she charged. “We’ll see many more firings like the janitors here, and more punishments for people who are just working and trying to support their families.”

Increasingly, however, the Washington proposals have even less promise of legalization, and more emphasis on punishment. The newest Democratic Party scheme virtually abandons the legalization program promised by the “bipartisan” Schumer/Graham proposal, saying that heavy enforcement at the border and in the workplace must come before any consideration of giving 12 million people legal status.

“We have to look at the whole picture,” Saucedo urged. “So long as we have trade agreements like NAFTA that create poverty in countries like Mexico, people will continue to come here, no matter how many walls we build. Instead of turning people into guest workers, as these bills in Washington would do, while firing and even jailing those who don’t have papers, we need to help people get legal status, and repeal the laws that are making work a crime.” 

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According to the Immigration Customs Agency, ICE, “A woman from the Bay Area community of Walnut Creek, Calif., faces up to 50 years in prison after being indicted by a grand jury on a variety of charges stemming from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into allegations she abused a female domestic servant she held against her will in her home, threatening her, failing to pay her wages and rationing her food.

Last week, a federal grand jury returned a five-count superseding indictment charging Mabelle de la Rosa Dann, 45, with criminal violations of forced labor, unlawful conduct regarding documents in furtherance of servitude, visa fraud, conspiracy to commit visa fraud, and harboring an illegal alien for private financial gain. The indictment states the victim worked for Dann from July 2006 through April 2008.

According to court documents, Dann conspired to commit visa fraud to obtain a visa for the victim so she could enter the United States and work as a domestic servant for Dann. The indictment alleges Dann confiscated the victim’s visa, passport and other identification documents so she could maintain control over her. Moreover, the court document claims the defendant allegedly threatened to harm the victim if she failed to continue working for her.” ICE, Feb. 9, 2009.

Bay Area woman suspected of abusing her domestic servant faces forced labor and servitude charges

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