A Primer on Human Trafficking and the Florida 15 Case
prepared by: Anakbayan NJ
What is Human Trafficking?
The crime of human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.
Human trafficking victims are found in all legitimate and illegitimate labor sectors, including sweat shops, agricultural fields, restaurants, hotels, massage parlors, and domestic service.
If you have been forced or deceived into working against your will and are unable or afraid to leave employment, you may be a victim of trafficking.
Violence is often present in human trafficking situations, but exploitation can occur without physical violence and traffickers often use subtle methods of coercion to induce fear and exert power over their victims.
Are Filipinos at risk for human trafficking?
Yes. Filipinos are at risk for human trafficking due to the semi-feudal, semi-colonial Philippine society, where conditions of landlessness, joblessness, low wages, and contractualization are prevalent. The Philippines’ government-facilitated Labor Export Policy (LEP) [learn more about LEP here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SNE5ZphHYo] and the culpability of its various departments such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) have dealings with foreign recruiters undertaking labor trafficking operations.
Are there any known human trafficking cases of Filipinos in the US?
Yes. One case that has surfaced recently is that of the Florida 15, or F15. In this case, a group of 15 Filipino workers were recruited by the San Villa Ship Management Co. (Philippine-based) between 2008-2009 to work at the W Hotel in Miami, Florida as housekeepers and managers. Here are the facts of their case:
- The workers were required to pay up to $7000 each for placement fees
- While working at the hotel, their payrate was supposed to be $16-17 per hour, but the agency only gave them $6 per hour without overtime bonus
- Many were paid only once a month and paychecks were issued very late
- The agency failed to renew their H2-B visas without the workers’ knowledge leading them to overstay in the US without proper documentation
- Because of their immigration status, some were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency and are pending deportation
- San Villa has played deaf to their pleas for help and appeal to work-out their visas
- All 15 workers have left their employer in Florida and are now employed in the NJ/NY area.
- They are now seeking the help of Anakbayan’s NY and NJ chapters and our allied organizations to fight with them against deportation, against human trafficking, against illegal recruitment.
Are there any U.S. laws protecting workers against such abuses?
Yes. In the U.S., the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is a federal law that guarantees certain legal benefits and services to victims who are in the U.S. because they were trafficked. The law provides several options for immigration relief to be explored with the help of an attorney.
Once an individual is determined (by a federal agency) to be a victim of trafficking, he or she will become eligible for Continued Presence (CP). CP is a temporary status that allows you to remain in the U.S. for one year (renewable if necessary) during the ongoing investigation or prosecution of the trafficker. Once you obtain CP you can also get a work authorization.
A T Visa is a 4-year non-immigrant status that enables victims to stay in the U.S. and assist federal and/or state authorities in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases.
For those older than 18, in order to receive a T Visa a victim must be complying with reasonable requests for assistance from law enforcement unless unable to cooperate due to physical or psychological trauma. A T Visa recipient must be likely to suffer extreme hardship upon removal from the U.S. Receipt of a T Visa also enables recipients to bring certain family members to the U.S.
There are other forms of immigration relief that may be applicable depending on the victim’s unique circumstances. All options should be explored with an immigration attorney.
What can we do as youth and students? As Filipinos overseas?
The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) is leading the launch of a community campaign called the STOP Campaign. As youth and students overseas, in alliance with our kasamas in the Philippines, we can join the STOP campaign which aims to:
- Fight for the back wages of human trafficking victims from their former employers, including compensation for related damages to their labor trafficking and wage theft cases
- Have the removal proceedings against human trafficking victims cancelled
- Hold legally accountable the former employers of the human trafficking victims by filing criminal charges and maximizing other legal measures
- Educate and mobilize the community on the reality of modern-day labor trafficking
- Expose and oppose the Philippine government’s culpability in labor trafficking and criminal neglect of overseas Filipino workers.
- Encourage and build confidence in other Filipino victims of labor trafficking to come forward and fight for their rights.
Join Anakbayan and be part of the Filipino youth movement in affecting genuine social change in our communities and in the Philippines!