Press Release

Filipina Immigrant Worker Sues Former United Nations Ambassador from the Philippines for Human Trafficking Violations


New York, NY — The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) announced that it has filed a complaint in New York federal court on behalf of a Filipina immigrant worker against a former United Nations ambassador from the Philippines, his family, and his wife’s travel agency, for violating federal laws against human trafficking.

At the press conference today, Marichu Suarez Baoanan, a citizen from the Philippines, described how she paid $5,000 to the Bajas and Labaire International Travel, in return for transportation, a visa, a work permit, and job placement services in the United States. Ms. Baoanan arrived in New York in early 2006, believing that she would receive assistance to find employment as a nurse. Instead, former UN ambassador Lauro Baja, Jr., his wife Norma Baja (an owner of Labaire International Travel), and the Bajas’ adult daughter, Maria Elizabeth Facundo, alleged a substantial debt against Ms. Baoanan and subjected her for three months to involuntary servitude, forced labor, peonage, debt bondage, and slavery as a domestic worker in their home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

“Human trafficking is far more complex than many people realize,” said AALDEF Staff Attorney Ivy Suriyopas, who leads the Anti-Trafficking Initiative. “It can involve domestic workers that cook food for, clean the house of, and take care of the children of your next-door neighbor. Trafficking involves the severe exploitation of workers regardless of the industry of the worker or the reputation of the trafficker.”

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), individuals can sue their former traffickers and also legalize their immigration status. “T” visas are available to sex and labor trafficking survivors who have been subjected to force, fraud, or coercion.

Ms. Baoanan sought assistance in 2006 from DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association, a Filipino labor rights group, and lawyers at AALDEF. AALDEF helped to secure a T visa for Ms. Baoanan and Derivative T visas for her family members, with case management assistance provided by New York Association for New Americans (NYANA). Ms. Baoanan was reunited with her family in April 2008.

“It is an honor to work with AALDEF on behalf of Ms. Baoanan and other women and youth like her to meet the humanitarian needs of trafficking victims and their families, and to preserve the rule of law and the values that we cherish in our lives and our society,” said Aaron Mendelsohn, an associate at Troutman Sanders LLP in New York, the law firm which is serving as pro bono co-counsel on this case.

AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative provides free legal representation to trafficked women and youth to apply for immigration relief, facilitate survivors’ access to human services, and represent them in civil litigation. AALDEF’s anti-trafficking efforts also include community education, outreach, and advocacy.

For more information:
Ivy O. Suriyopas
Staff Attorney
212.966.5932 ext. 235

Margaret Fung
Executive Director
212.966.5932 ext. 201