Central Islip, NY — The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) today filed in federal court a complaint under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), on behalf of Samirah and Enung, two Indonesian survivors of labor trafficking, following the federal criminal hearing on restitution for Varsha and Mahender Sabhnani on July 11. The Long Island-based couple trafficked both women to the U.S. to serve as their domestic workers for 5 and 2-½ years, respectively, and a jury found the couple guilty for violating the criminal provisions of the TVPRA last December. The Sabhnanis paid Samirah and Enung each less than $200 per month to cook, clean, and perform numerous other household duties. Both domestic workers suffered from severe physical abuse at the hands of the couple and were not allowed to leave the premises. Samirah and Enung were able to escape the Sabhnani household in 2007 with the assistance of local and federal authorities. Varsha Sabhnani received an 11-year sentence, and Mahender Sabhnani was sentenced to more than 3 years in federal prison.
“Like many domestic workers, Samirah and Enung were vulnerable as immigrants and unaware of the laws that protected them,” said AALDEF Staff Attorney Ivy Suriyopas, who leads the Anti-Trafficking Initiative. “This civil suit gives them the chance finally to assert their rights after years of severe torment, physical abuse, degradation, and exploitation. In addition to restitution from the criminal case, they can seek damages for pain and suffering, other compensatory relief, and punitive damages through a civil action. Such damages are clearly warranted in this case.”
AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative provides free legal representation to trafficked women and youth to apply for immigration relief, secure access to human services, and undertake civil litigation. AALDEF’s anti-trafficking efforts also include community education, outreach, and advocacy. The TVPRA provides for immigration relief and private causes of action for survivors of severe forms of trafficking. The federal government estimates that the largest group of trafficking survivors is from Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Fish & Richardson PC is serving as pro bono co-counsel on this case. The clients received their T visas with the assistance of Catholic Charities Diocese of Rockville Centre. T visas are available to sex and labor trafficking survivors who have been subjected to force, fraud, or coercion. Samirah and Enung continue to receive assistance and support from local domestic worker organizations, including Andolan - Organizing South Asian Workers.
The Anti-Trafficking Initiative has developed outreach materials in 12 languages–English, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Punjabi, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, Vietnamese–which are available to the general public at Anti-Trafficking Programs.
To make a referral on behalf of a survivor who speaks any of the above languages, please contact AALDEF Paralegal Mabel Tso at 212.966.5932 x224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information:
Ivy O. Suriyopas
212.966.5932 ext. 235