Govt & NGO work to rescue 2 from involuntary servitude
Ipu Avegalio Lefiti, Vice Chairperson of the Multi Disciplinary Team (MDT) Vice Chairperson and Director Liliu Mailo of the American Samoa Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence (ASCADSV) are appealing to lawmakers to act on the Human Trafficking and Involuntary Servitude bill that was introduced in March.
The joint move by MDT and ASCADSV came after ASCADSV took in a man from Samoa who came to the territory seeking the whereabouts of his two sons. The father, Steven Williams from Vaimoso, says his boys came to the territory with a business woman.
In an interview with Samoa News, Williams said a business woman and her husband came to Samoa seeking employees to work for their car wash business. “My wife and I were approached and initially this woman said my two sons would come over to look at how the business is operated and that she (the business woman) would return to Samoa to get the clearance so that she would submit proper documents with immigration to attain government identification for the boys,” explained the man.
Williams said when his sons left home in January there was minimal communication and in February, when there was no communication whatsoever, he and his family started to worry about his kids. The boys in question are 19 and 20 years old.
Last week, Williams came to American Samoa to take his children back home (to Samoa) and was surprised to find out that both his sons were working at the car wash, in Nu’uuli, given that their status in the territory is illegal.
"So then I asked the woman how much she was paying my boys and [told her] the money should be sent over to Samoa. However, since January (when the boys first came to American Samoa) the woman only sent over $70 US.
“Also, after sending over just $70 US, I have tried on numerous occasions to call her cell phone so I could talk to my sons, yet the woman either rejected the call, sometimes answered and hung up, or just did not answer my many phone calls,” he said.
The man sought assistance with Director Liliu Mailo ASCADSV for a place to stay and for assistance on what steps to take to remove his boys from the business woman, who is their sponsor on a 30-day permit, according to father, which was also confirmed by the Immigration Office. Mailo informed Samoa News that since ASCADSV’s shelter is full, she opened her home for him to stay and also provided Williams with financial assistance.
The man filed a complaint with police after his attempts to get his boys failed. Williams said the business woman refused to allow the boys to leave her house and has made them continue to work at the car wash.
Samoa News confirmed with police that a complaint was filed. Samoa News also spoke to the officer investigating the case, who wished not to be named. The officer stated that they can only do so much, because the law on human trafficking does not exist in the local statutes.
“These are elements of human trafficking — where these boys were brought over to the territory and forced to work illegally without compensation for their work. These boys were not allowed to talk to anyone, aside from the people whose vehicles were at the car wash," said the officer.
“I understand that there is a proposed bill pending in the Fono which legalizes the ability for human trafficking laws to be enforced and it's something that should have been done a very long time ago. I just wait and hope the Senators and Representatives will act on this measure when they come back for their second regular session,” said the officer.
Liliu teamed up with MDT Vice Chairperson, Lefiti in findings ways to assist Williams in being able to take his children back with him to Samoa this week.
“As the vice chair for the MDT Against Family Violence, we are committed as stakeholders against injustice by being involved with all issues that involve abuse. This includes domestic abuse and human trafficking," said Lefiti.
“Since the USDOL visit earlier this year, the MDT has been promoting awareness in the community that domestic/sponsored workers recruited or employed either by businesses or within hosting family homes, are entitled to minimum wages under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an act that will be enforced in the year 2015.
“Being that we still do not have a formal local law it is aggravating, and an even more embarrassing situation for American Samoa. There is an increase of small business people who are recruiting laborers from Apia or Savai’i and deporting them without pay or compensation. Allegations to that effect are already in the news with the Karaoke scam," she said.
“Other stakeholders involved in assisting victims of these types of scams are the American Samoa Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, Pualele Foundation, ASOA and Toe Afua Mai Matua programs.
“Victims of these types of scams are very prone to being exploited because of their need and because they are isolated from their homes,” said Ipu.
She noted that within MDT’s line of work there are more people slowly stepping up to report their circumstances. “Victims, who do not have children here in Pago are more likely to report rather than those with families. They would rather suffer under an unjust and cruel sponsor to ensure some kind of security for their children in the future.
“So far the victims that reveal themselves to us, suffer from fear and shame of deportation without anything to show for their absence and labor. An option available to us in dealing with these types of situations is NOT to return the victims to the sponsor pending deportation or into TCF, but they should be placed in the shelter until they depart on the next transport out.”
Samoa News understands the boys are still with the sponsor, while Williams is seeking further help to get his children on the plane to return to Samoa.
ANTI-HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE BILL
The Fono bill that was submitted notes that every person who knowingly subjects another person by any means, including abduction, fraud or deception, to forced labor or services, or assumes rights of ownership over any person, or who sells any person to another, or receives money or anything of value in consideration of placing any person in the custody of, or under the power or control of another, or who buys any person, or pays money or delivers anything of value to another in consideration of having any person placed in his/her custody, or under his/her power or control, who knowingly aids or assists in any manner, anyone who violates this statute — is guilty of involuntary servitude.
This is a class A felony crime, punishable by life in jail or imprisonment for a minimum of ten years or more, according to current laws for this felony. This latest measure, called “Anti-Human Trafficking and Involuntary Servitude” defines and prohibits criminal conduct involving certain trafficking in persons and involuntary servitude, establishing a new section of the American Samoa Code Annotated (ASCA).
The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Taotasi Archie Soliai, Talo Lemapu Suiaunoa, Vailoaa Eteuati Amutuana’i, Toeaina Faufano Autele, I’aulualo Faafetai Talia, Timusa Tini Lam Yuen, Puleleiite Li’amatua Tufele, Larry Sanitoa, Va’amua Henry Sesepasara and Talaimatai Elisara Su’a.
The first major human trafficking case that surfaced in the territory, and made international headlines, was the Daewoosa Samoa garment factory case in 2001. It was the first time many local residents became aware of human trafficking in the territory, described by the U.S. Government as mostly underground operations, making it difficult to determine the actual number of known victims.
Last month a five-member team from the Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division came to the territory for a week for several purposes, including conducting sessions with community and government officials about labor and the U Visa. They are also working on a memorandum of understanding with the government to work closely on certain issues, according to team leader Ruben Rosalez, Regional Administrator.
The U Visa gives victims of certain crimes temporary legal status and work eligibility in the territories.
As reported earlier the USDOL gave lectures about domestic workers and sponsored workers employed in or about the house or property of a host family, who are statutorily entitled to the federal minimum wage.
She added that the USDOL team was also here to create awareness in both NGO and the government community on issues surrounding victims of domestic violence, specifically domestic workers who may also be entitled to the minimum wage under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).