D.C.'s indentured servants.The brick townhouse town·house or town house
1. A residence in a city.
2. A row house, especially a fashionable one. with its aluminum front door blends into northern Virginia's suburban sprawl. From the outside it doesn't look like what it is: a modern-day underground railway station for runaway domestic workers imported from the Third World. The smell of spicy food spicy food Nutrition Any comestible marinated in and/or which contains chili peppers, mustard with horseradish, curry or other spices that evoke a desired intraoral sensation that crosses pain with pleasure; SFs may elicit an autonomic nervous system and the sound of high-pitched chatter drifts out of the kitchen. A cluster of about eight women--runaway nannies and housekeepers, most of them from the Philippines--gathers here. Among them is twenty-three-year-old Marilyn Caracas. Here is her story: A distant relative brought Caracas from the Philippines to clean her Fairfax, Virginia Fairfax is an independent city forming an enclave within the confines of Fairfax County, in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Although politically independent of the surrounding county, the City of Fairfax is nevertheless its county seatGR6. , house and care for her three children. Before getting her visa from the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Caracas signed a contract with her employer, who promised to adhere to adhere to
verb 1. follow, keep, maintain, respect, observe, be true, fulfil, obey, heed, keep to, abide by, be loyal, mind, be constant, be faithful
2. U.S. labor laws labor law, legislation dealing with human beings in their capacity as workers or wage earners. The Industrial Revolution, by introducing the machine and factory production, greatly expanded the class of workers dependent on wages as their source of income. .
But when Caracas arrived in Washington in March 1994, things were not as she expected. On weekends she cleaned the woman's house and took care of her children. Monday through Friday she stayed at the house of the woman's mother-in-law, where Caracas ran an unregistered day-care center day-care center: see day nursery. for eleven children, in addition to taking care of the older woman. Caracas says she worked from 6:30 A.M. to 11 P.M. seven days a week, and received a mere $230 a month. (Each child at the day-care center paid the mother-in-law $600 a month.) Caracas's employer took her passport and threatened to dismiss and deport de·port
tr.v. de·port·ed, de·port·ing, de·ports
1. To expel from a country. See Synonyms at banish.
2. To behave or conduct (oneself) in a given manner; comport. her if she complained, Caracas says.
Caracas was exhausted and sick. She says she didn't know where to turn for help. "I was very sad and afraid. I didn't know anyone and didn't know the regulations, the laws," she says. "They told me they don't want me to talk with others, even my co-Filipinos."
One evening she was allowed out to go to the store to buy sanitary napkins. By chance, she met and talked with two other Filipinas who told her about the brick townhouse. For months she plotted her escape. Then, when the mother-in-law went on vacation On Vacation was The Robot Ate Me's third album, released in 2004 by the band's frontman, Ryland Bouchard's label Swim Slowly Records, then reissued in 2005 by 5 Rue Christine. , leaving Caracas alone, she searched the house and found her passport, which her employer had hidden in the back of a closet. She called the townhouse and one of the residents there came and got her.
For several years, this townhouse has served as a clandestine way-station on a modern-day underground railway. The owner, "Rose" (not her real name), is part of an informal network of people involved in helping foreign domestic servants escape illegal, exploitative, and sometimes abusive employment situations. Rose gives them a place to stay, counseling, and a community.
Scattered around Washington are other way-stations, mainly churches and social-service centers, that have aided hundreds of foreign domestic workers to escape bad situations, find other employment, and get legal help.
In Caracas's case it didn't work. Through a Washington immigration immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important. attorney, Edward Leavy Judge Edward Leavy (born 1929 in Butteville, Oregon) is a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. Prior to these positions, Leavy was a judge for the U.S. , Caracas filed a $600,000 suit against her employer. But the employer contacted Caracas' father in the Philippines, protesting that his daughter was making false accusations and bringing shame on the entire family. Under this pressure, Caracas dropped the lawsuit and returned to the Philippines. Nothing happened to the employer, who works for the International Monetary Fund and repeatedly refused to discuss the case. So did officials at the IMF IMF
See: International Monetary Fund
See International Monetary Fund (IMF). , who argue that this is "a private not an institutional matter."
Caracas and the other runaways are some of the thousands of foreign domestic workers who enter the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. legally to work for diplomats or executives with the World Bank, the IMF, the InterAmerican Development Bank, and other international agencies. Some employers are American. Most are from overseas. Their employees come with the help of special State Department programs that permit international bureaucrats and diplomats to "import" household help (housekeepers, nannies, cooks, gardeners, drivers, etc.) on either A-3 or G-5 visas. The visas are good for a year, and can be renewed as long as the servant is working for either a diplomat or an international civil servant. In 1994, the State Department issued 3,400 of these visas; 875--or one-quarter--went to Filipino servants.
The domestic servants are mostly women, often single mothers, from poor families in Asia, Africa, Latin America Latin America, the Spanish-speaking, Portuguese-speaking, and French-speaking countries (except Canada) of North America, South America, Central America, and the West Indies. . "If they come here, it's because they are very poor in their won countries, and they need to support their families. After they made the sacrifice to leave their country, they don't want to go back without money," says Sister Manuela Vencela, assistant pastor An assistant pastor is a position which assists the pastor in a Christian church. The qualifications, responsibilities and duties vary depending on church and denomination. at Our Lady Queen of the Americas Church in Washington.
To get the visa, their employers must agree, often with written contracts, to provide "reasonable living and working conditions" as defined under U.S. labor laws. This is supposed to include transportation to and from the United State, wages "no less than" the minimum wage, overtime, fixed hours, time offs, sick leave, and paid vacation Noun 1. paid vacation - a vacation from work by an employee with pay granted
holiday, vacation - leisure time away from work devoted to rest or pleasure; "we get two weeks of vacation every summer"; "we took a short holiday in Puerto Rico" . Both the IMF and the World Bank (where, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Time magazine, salaries and benefit packages average $123,000 tax-free) have special offices that handle the paperwork involved in importing a domestic servant. But frequently the employers ignore the contracts and illegally force their live-in domestics to work very long hours for little pay. In a few cases, the employers have neglected to pay their servants at all.
"I've been shocked to find that these domestics--they are always women--have been virtually under house arrest, forced to work seven days a week basically around the clock, and haven't seen the light of day for two or three years," says Leavy. "They weren't properly paid, and they were threatened with deportation deportation, expulsion of an alien from a country by an act of its government. The term is not applied ordinarily to sending a national into exile or to committing one convicted of crime to an overseas penal colony (historically called transportation). ."
He and other lawyers representing domestics say neither the State Department nor the other institutions involved check to make sure that employers of foreign domestic servants follow U.S. labor laws. One IMF official, who asks not to be identified, describes the Fund as "a facilitator, not a policeman." He says that if the contract is broken, "the IMF really can't do an awful lot." Even so, he concedes publicity about these cases is "an embarrassment."
John Connolly John Connolly is the name of:
Employers incur the expense of hiring overseas because imported help is considered more controllable. Workers are less likely to quit, run away, or sue, and more likely to endure long hours and low pay without complaint. Employment counselor Celia Rivas, who work at the Spanish Catholic Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland, recalls that a domestic from the Dominican Republic Dominican Republic (dəmĭn`ĭkən), republic (2005 est. pop. 8,950,000), 18,700 sq mi (48,442 sq km), West Indies, on the eastern two thirds of the island of Hispaniola. The capital and largest city is Santo Domingo. once told her that her employer had proclaimed: "If I ask you to kiss the floor, you have to. You are part of my property. I brought you here and you have to do what I tell you."
Isolation and ignorance are keys to control. Some employers hold their servants' passports and discourage them from leaving the house alone or developing independent friendships. Some even send their servants' pay to overseas bank accounts, according to several former servants and their lawyers. Many servants do not speak English.
If one decides to escape, her route to freedom may begin with a chance meeting with a good Samaritan Good Samaritan
man who helped half-dead victim of thieves after a priest and a Levite had “passed by.” [N.T.: Luke 10:33]
See : Helpfulness
Good Samaritan such as Rose, who fell into her Harriet Tubman-like role by accident. She worked first in Hong Kong Hong Kong (hŏng kŏng), Mandarin Xianggang, special administrative region of China, formerly a British crown colony (2005 est. pop. 6,899,000), land area 422 sq mi (1,092 sq km), adjacent to Guangdong prov. and then in Washington for an American diplomatic family whom she says, "thank God," treated her well.
One day at a playground she met another nanny, "Jane," from Guyana, who worked for an Australian woman employed by the IMF. "She was very upset because she was getting only $250 a month" for caring for the woman's son and doing the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, says Rose. Jane told Rose that before leaving Guyana, she had signed a contract with her employer, who agreed to pay minimum wage, give her free room and board, and keep fixed hours of employment. Based on this contract, the U.S. embassy issued Jane a one-year G-5 visa. But when Jane reached the United States, her new employer took her passport and ignored the contract, saying "I don't need to give you a higher salary because I did all the work to get you your visa."
Many months later, Jane called Rose to say she was quitting and running away. "She came to my house," says Rose. "Where can she go? She doesn't know anyone. So I had to take her with me." The next day Rose called Ed Leavy, whose name she had gotten through a friend. Leavy succeeded in winning a modest out-of-court settlement An agreement reached between the parties in a pending lawsuit that resolves the dispute to their mutual satisfaction and occurs without judicial intervention, supervision, or approval. for Jane. After that, Rose began assisting other runaway servants, mostly Filipinas.
Leavy first became aware of the problem about fifteen years ago while doing volunteer work at the Spanish Catholic Center in Washington. He has handled several dozen cases. He ticks off a list of his most memorable cases:
* In 1991, Sangita Satyal, a Nepalese domestic servant, was awarded about $40,000 in wages and legal fees from her Nepalese employer, an IMF economist and his wife. Before receiving a visa, Satyal signed the usual contract guaranteeing minimum wage, overtime, and time off. But, unbeknownst to Satyal and the State Department, the economist executed a secondary contract with the woman's father in Nepal, in which the economist promised to deposit $50 each month into a bank account. Satyal received room and food, but no salary, and was denied access to the bank account.
* At the McLean, Virginia McLean is an unincorporated community located in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia. A small geographic area along Chain Bridge Road in Arlington County has a 22101 zip code and is also part of McLean. , home of a Saudi Arabian diplomat, three Filipina women lived, dormitory-style, in the basement. They worked around the clock. Each received only $100 a month. When one of Leavy's colleagues contacted the diplomat, he agreed to an out-of-court settlement rather than undergo the public embarrassment of a trial.
* A Tanzanian analyst at the World Bank brought a registered nurse from his tribe to work as a nanny and domestic, promising that in addition to meeting the terms of the contract, he would allow her to go to university at night. Instead, for two years, she was paid $50 to $100 a week and forced to work seven days a week. Her employer never allowed her to go to school. The woman finally complained to the World Bank's ethics office, which eventually decided that her employer owed her $13,500. The Tanzanian official refused to pay. The woman then retained Leavy and Connolly, who reached an out-of-court settlement of $21,000.
"At least I had my dignity and I punished them. I showed them that they could not do that," she says She has since found other employment and succeeded in graduating from college.
In Third World countries, high-level bureaucrats commonly employ household servants for a pittance pit·tance
1. A meager monetary allowance, wage, or remuneration.
2. A very small amount: not a pittance of remorse. . Many of these elite seem to see little wrong in doing so when they come to the United States--especially when they believe no one is watching.
Diplomats and foreign executives tend to bring in domestic servants from their own countries. Diplomats who come from the Middle East and Asia often recruit help from the Philippines.
But as the case of lane and her Australian employer shows, there have also been instances of First World abuse.
A small number of American diplomats or businessmen who are subject to international assignment and are temporarily reassigned to the United States are also permitted to bring in domestic help on a temporary B-1 visa.
One of the most notorious cases to reach the courts involved a Malawian man, Caleb Zintambila, who was brought to the United States by an official with the United States Information Agency The United States Information Agency (USIA), which existed from 1953 to 1999, was a United States agency devoted to public diplomacy. Mission
The USIA's mission was to understand, inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of the national interest, to broaden . Zintambila says he was paid only $40 a month, which he had to use to buy his own food, and was forced to work up to eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, sleep on a piece of cardboard in the unfinished basement of his employer's Potomac home, and bathe in the backyard with a bucket. "Even in Africa, I didn't wash with a bucket," says Zintambila.
During his two-year employment, Zintambila managed to send $20 a month to Malawi to support his four children. "I could never buy anything new and my shoes had holes in the bottom. When I went grocery shopping I had to put plastic bags on my feet so the snow would not go into my shoes," he explained. He said he managed to escape with the help of a woman from Trinidad who, by chance. stopped to talk with him while he was mowing mow 1
1. The place in a barn where hay, grain, or other feed is stored.
2. A stack of hay or other feed stored in a barn. the lawn. She found him a good job with a Norwegian family. He brought a lawsuit and eventually was awarded $50,000 in damages.
The lawyers who handle such cases suspect they are seeing just the tip of the iceberg tip of the iceberg
n. pl. tips of the iceberg
A small evident part or aspect of something largely hidden: afraid that these few reported cases of the disease might only be the tip of the iceberg. : Many servants either endure exploitation in silence or escape on their own, hiding out in the various multinational communities around Washington.
The State Department has long been aware that servants are being mistreated and labor laws violated. In 1981, Secretary of State Edmund Muskie Edmund Sixtus "Ed" Muskie (March 28, 1914 – March 26, 1996) was an American Democratic politician from Maine. He served as Governor of Maine, a U.S. Senator, as U.S. Secretary of State, and ran as a candidate for Vice President of the United States. wrote a memo expressing "deep concern" over evidence that some diplomats based in Washington had "seriously abused or exploited household servants." For six months following Muskie's memo, written contracts were mandatory--even for diplomats. But just six months later, after Muskie mus·kie or mus·ky
n. pl. mus·kies
The muskellunge. left office, the State Department issued a new directive, stating that "requiring employment contracts in each and every case might be unnecessarily burdensome." The State Department dropped the written-contract requirement.
Today, consular officers in U.S. embassies are given the discretion to ensure, either verbally or in writing, that the foreign employers and their servants understand that U.S. labor laws must be followed. This has meant that some servants, particularly those working for diplomats, arrive without a written contract.
In 1995, the State Department submitted a "Statement of Interest" in the case of a Filipina servant, Corazon Tabion, who sued her employer, a Jordanian diplomat. Tabion said that during the two years she worked in the diplomat's home, she was paid only about $50 a week for more than sixty hours of work. The diplomat claimed he could not be sued because he has diplomatic immunity A principle of International Law that provides foreign diplomats with protection from legal action in the country in which they work.
Established in large part by the Vienna conventions, diplomatic immunity is granted to individuals depending on their rank and the . To the astonishment of John Connolly, Tabion's lawyer, the State Department upheld this claim. The case was dismissed.
"We believe the result is extraordinarily unjust," says Connolly. "The idea that a diplomat can employ someone under the conditions that our client was employed--which were totally unacceptable--and escape any liability is really an affront af·front
tr.v. af·front·ed, af·front·ing, af·fronts
1. To insult intentionally, especially openly. See Synonyms at offend.
a. To meet defiantly; confront.
b. to our entire system of jurisprudence jurisprudence (jr'ĭsprd`əns), study of the nature and the origin and development of law. and fair play."
State Department officials pledge that they will examine cases brought to their attention.
A May 1996 directive says, "The Department will examine closely any case of alleged abuse by a personal servant, attendant, or domestic that is brought to its attention." The State Department receives only "about one" complaint a year, according to a State Department official. who asks not to be identified.
But abuses continue, as the State Department itself acknowledges. In a May 1996 memo, the State Department again said it was "concerned to learn of problems" including "instances where wages have been withheld from personal domestics for undue periods; where the wages actually paid are substantially less than those stipulated at the time of employment; where passports have been withheld from the employee; where the actual number of working hours weekly is substantially more than those originally contemplated and with no additional pay; and where the employee has been forbidden from leaving the employer's premises even though off duty."
The new immigration law This article or section contains information about scheduled or expected future events.
It may contain tentative information; the content may change as the event approaches and more information becomes available. , which came into effect October 1, has further narrowed the options and upped the anxiety of exploited domestic servants.
Lawyers and social workers say foreign workers foreign workers
Those who work in a foreign country without initially intending to settle there and without the benefits of citizenship in the host country. Some are recruited to supplement the workforce of a host country for a limited term or to provide skills on a are now even less likely to come forward to bring legal action because they fear that--even if they win their case--they will be deported.
The problem of abuse is not confined to Washington. Leavy and other lawyers have handled cases of exploited domestic servants working for United Nations officials in New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of . In Geneva Geneva, canton and city, Switzerland
Geneva (jənē`və), Fr. Genève, canton (1990 pop. 373,019), 109 sq mi (282 sq km), SW Switzerland, surrounding the southwest tip of the Lake of Geneva. , the problem led labor activists to form a union to fight for the rights of domestic servants. But U.S. labor-union officials say organizing domestic workers is nearly impossible because they lack a single employer.
Leavy calls such cases "slavery in the shadow of the Capitol." Washington's modern-day underground railway is the best shot many of these workers have.
Martha Honey is a journalist and research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She wrote "Guatemalan Hit Squads Come to the U.S.A." in the June 1996 issue.