On February 27, 2015, Ivy O. Suriyopas, director of AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking
Initiative testified at a New York City Council oversight hearing on labor
trafficking of domestic workers and resources available for victims in New York
City. Her testimony appears below and can also be downloaded here.
Oversight: Labor Trafficking in the Domestic Worker Industry–
Resources for Victims in New York City
New York City Council
Testimony of Ivy O. Suriyopas, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative
at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
12:30 pm, Feb. 27, 2015
Good afternoon, Members of the New York City Council.
My name is Ivy Suriyopas, and I am the director of the Anti-Trafficking
Initiative at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. AALDEF is a
national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian
Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF
works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights
Since 2005, I have represented trafficking victims and survivors, including a
number of domestic workers, in their applications for T Visas and other
immigration relief. I served as a criminal justice advocate as they cooperated
with law enforcement authorities in the investigation and prosecution of these
cases. Additionally, I have represented victims and survivors as they have
sought to obtain economic justice.
Let me paint a picture for you of the types of trafficking cases involving
domestic workers I have encountered:
There is the matter of the domestic worker from the Philippines who paid for a
job and a better life in the United States, only to find herself having to pay
off an alleged debt by working as a domestic worker.
There is the domestic worker from Bangladesh whose passport was taken for
“safe-keeping” and who is locked in the household with her employers’ infant
nine hours a day.
There is the case of the Indonesian domestic worker who is forbidden from
leaving the household and gets paid merely $200 a month for 126 hours of work
per week; that translates into roughly to $0.36 per hour.
There is the domestic worker from Bhutan whose employer at the United Nations
wields so much influence and power that she fears leaving the household.
And there is the matter of the domestic worker from India who had escaped her
trafficking situation only to find another job where her employers refused to
pay her overtime and threaten to fire her if she tries to call in sick.
These cases occur far too often and could be prevented if the City takes steps
to appropriately identify trafficking. The lack of understanding of the
complexity of human trafficking, employers’ unawareness of or refusal to fulfill
their obligations to their domestic worker employees, domestic sworkers’ lack of
knowledge of their rights under the law, and barriers to accessing public
benefits and other vital resources hamper the ability of these laborers to
operate in fair and safe working conditions.
As we strive to improve work-life balance, and we rely more heavily on child
care, we need to ensure that the workers who care for our children, clean our
homes, and cook our food are paid fairly and treated appropriately. New York,
home of the United Nations and a number of consulates, should bolster its
efforts to protect personal employees – typically on A-3 and G-5 visas – in
these households. New York City should be at the forefront of protecting
The gross oversight of the government to identify and
combat human trafficking in labor sectors such as domestic work, hospitality,
agriculture, restaurants, manufacturing, and other low-wage industries contrasts
with the human trafficking cases NGOs are encountering on the ground. According
to the International Labour Organization, the vast majority of trafficking
victims (68 percent) are working in labor industries. The vast majority of
actual documented trafficking cases (73 percent) throughout the United States
involve trafficking into labor sectors, such as domestic work. The Urban
Institute’s Labor Trafficking research report documents the prevalence of
trafficking that occurs in domestic work.