News/US: Bill would protect abused foreign workers

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Subject: News/US: Bill would protect abused foreign workers
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Jun 28 2000 - 09:42:08 EDT


Bill would protect abused foreign workers
By Caren Benjamin
May 3, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- For four months, Dora Mortey's days cleaning the home of
a World Bank employee began at 5:50 in the morning and ended at 9:30 at night.

Her employers referred to her as "The Creature." They told her if she went
outside she would be kidnapped or raped. She was paid for only one of the
four months she worked.

"The mental abuse was unbearable. I had no freedom or rights in that
house," Mortey said recently.

A schoolteacher in her native Ghana, Mortey came to Washington, D.C., on a
special visa that allows employees of international organizations to bring
domestic workers with them to this country.

Unfortunately, Mortey's situation is not uncommon, said Rep. Sam Gejdenson,
D-Conn., the ranking member of the House International Relations Committee.

"These are often people without a lot of education," Gejdenson said. "They
come to the United States, a strange country where they have no friends or
relatives. They are working for people who have tremendous power in their
home countries and they feel powerless. They are often financially,
physically, sexually or mentally abused."

Gejdenson and Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J. are pushing a bill to protect
foreign domestic workers. The measure, which could be voted on in the House
as early as Wednesday, also would protect victims of other trafficking in
human beings.

The measure would create a new class of visas for victims of sex
trafficking or slave labor.

Visas would be extended to those victims and their families who cooperate
with law enforcement and who would face persecution or extreme hardship if
repatriated.

Participants in the program, which would be capped at 5,000 a year, would
be able to apply for permanent residence after three years.

The measure would also create new criminal penalties for trafficking in
people. Current law is inadequate because the existing statutes on
involuntary servitude are based on 19th-century concepts of slavery.

The scope of the problem with domestic workers is hard to gauge, said Joy
Zarembka, director of the Campaign for Migrant Domestic Workers' Rights.
Approximately 4,000 people enter the United States each year under the
special visas.

"We are unaware how many out there are being abused and how many are making
their way to us," Zarembka said. "The biggest problem is that once a woman
decides to complain she's almost always shipped back home."

While the visa program would help cure that problem, Gejdenson is also
looking to include some financial support to victims. "Simply to recognize
the abuse is not sufficient. We need to have some ability to provide
interim economic assistance and shelter," he said. Some money is included
in the bill through victims' assistance programs. Gejdenson hopes to extend
welfare benefits to victims as well.

Zarembka's organization is also hoping to push the World Bank, the
International Monetary Fund and other groups with visa rights to help
police their own employees.

The World Bank could not be reached for comment but an attorney
representing Mortey said an internal investigation into her case is underway.
Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
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Stop-traffic is facilitated, international electronic list
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dealing with human rights abuses associated with trafficking
in persons, with an emphasis on public health and trafficking
in persons for forced labor, including forced prostitution,
sweatshop labor, domestic service and some coercive mail
order bride arrangements.
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