The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) announced that a Rhode Island federal judge has ordered default against an Emirati colonel in its human trafficking civil suit on behalf of a Filipina immigrant worker, Ms. Ballesteros. In April 2011, Ms. Ballesteros filed a civil action against Colonel Arif Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al-Ali, a former student at the U.S. Naval War College’s International Program from the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), for violating federal laws against human trafficking.
“Ms. Ballesteros has shown tremendous courage in taking a stand against the involuntary servitude to which she was subjected,” said attorney Ivy Suriyopas, who leads AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative. “She and the countless other domestic workers who are human trafficking survivors in the United States deserve justice.”
Ms. Ballesteros worked as one of the domestic workers for the Col. Al-Ali, his wife Samah Alharmoodi, 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. She arrived in Rhode Island in 2010 with a written contract to work five days a week and receive her pay in U.S. dollars. Instead, Col. Al-Ali subjected her for three months to involuntary servitude, forced labor, peonage, debt bondage, and slavery as a domestic worker in their home. He did not allow her a single day off work, forbade her from speaking to anyone outside the household, withheld her passport, and sent only occasional wages in dirham currency to her family in the Philippines. Ultimately Ms. Ballesteros was able to escape and obtain representation from AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative.
In 2011, Col. Al-Ali was arraigned by federal prosecutors for one count of committing fraud in foreign labor contracting and one count of making false representations to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He was arrested at JFK airport in New York City as he attempted to leave the United States with his family following his release on his own recognizance. (Read the Associated Press report.) While he was acquitted of the criminal charges in August 2011, the court allowed the civil suit to resume in October. In early 2012 his attorney moved to withdraw, and Col. Al-Ali has not appeared to defend himself in court. After he failed to appear at an August 8 hearing, U.S. District Judge McConnell ordered default on all counts after Ms. Ballesteros made an oral motion. The court may now schedule a hearing on damages to which Ms. Ballesteros is entitled.
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.