The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) today filed a civil complaint in Rhode Island federal court on behalf of a Filipina immigrant worker against a student at the U.S. Naval War College’s International Program from the United Arab Emirates (“U.A.E.”) and his wife for violating federal laws against human trafficking. On April 5, 2011, federal prosecutors arrested and arraigned the student, Colonel Arif Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al-Ali, for one count of committing fraud in foreign labor contracting and one count of making false representations to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The plaintiff, a citizen from the Philippines, worked as one of the domestic workers for the couple and their five children for several years in the U.A.E. before they asked her to provide child care for their younger children in the United States. The plaintiff arrived in Rhode Island in mid-2010, believing that she would work five days a week and receive her pay in U.S. dollars as agreed to in their written contract. Instead, former Col. Al-Ali and Samah Alharmoodi did not allow her any days off, forbade her from speaking to anyone outside the household, withheld her passport, sent her wages in dirham currency to her family in the Philippines, and subjected her for three months to involuntary servitude, forced labor, peonage, debt bondage, and slavery as a domestic worker in their home.
“The prevalence of human trafficking cases involving domestic workers is striking,” said AALDEF Staff Attorney Ivy Suriyopas, who leads the Anti-Trafficking Initiative. “They are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse due to their isolation in the household and reduced protections under federal and state employment laws. In this case, our client was a recent immigrant with little knowledge of her rights, no familiarity with her surroundings or access to public transportation, and no known friends or family in the United States.”
Samuel Bodurtha, an associate at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Rhode Island, is serving as pro bono co-counsel on this case.
AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative provides free legal representation, engages in criminal justice advocacy, and facilitates access to human services to trafficked persons. AALDEF’s anti-trafficking efforts also include community education, outreach, and advocacy.
UPDATE: According to news reports today, the defendant military officer Al-Ali was arrested after attempting to board an international flight to the United Arab Emirates at JFK airport in New York City, in violation of travel restrictions imposed by a federal magistrate after Al-Ali pleaded not guilty to criminal trafficking charges and was released on his own recognizance.