Friday, November 12, 2010
FBI PROBES TRAFFICKING OF PINOY WORKS
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are looking into the possible misuse of H-2B visas to illegally traffic workers from the Philippines.
The probe stems from the case of 11 Filipino workers who said they escaped from hotel jobs in Biloxi, Mississippi, partly out of fear for their safety. They have sought refuge in Los Angeles, California where they have been interviewed by the FBI.
One of the Pinoy workers, Norman Paul Yaranon, confirmed through text message they were cooperating with the FBI.
“Sorry, the FBI gave us advice that we can not tell anything about our case anymore,” the message read in response to a request from Manila Mail for an interview.
However, the Manila Mail obtained a copy his statement, describing their ordeal.
They were recruited in Manila by Adman Human Resources Placement & Promotions Inc. allegedly for Philadelphia-based Aramark.
An Aramark executive denied recruiting the Filpino workers, claiming signatures were forged.
They alleged Adman required them to pay from $6,000 to $6,500 each as “processing fees” for jobs that promised wages of up to $1,200 a month.
They entered the United States through Reagan Airport in Washington DC, expecting to be welcomed by a representative from Aramark.
No one met them at the airport and they were instructed instead by Adman executive Gemma Durante to take a Greyhound to Biloxi.
They were told to report to a certain Arthur Grigoryan of Royal Hospitality Services LLC, who allegedly asked them to sign a new contract with his firm that threw out the $8.75 hourly pay promised them in Manila and replaced that with a “per piece rate” of $4.75 for every room they clean.
Aside from Yaranon, the other workers who made it to Los Angeles were identified as Rufino de Guzman, Arlene Dorotan, Eutopria Velasco, Imelda Nosa, Khalid Velasco, Ronilo Cruz, Ricardo Jabagat, Mario Abaday, Vuenas dela Puerta and Manuel Jusayan.
Labor Attache Luzviminda Padilla explained they are part of a larger group of 30 OFWs hired for hotel jobs in Gulf Port, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Through the help of Mississippi-based Fil-Am lawyer Elaine Carr, Padilla said they are closely watching the current conditions of the workers who opted to continue working there.
“So far we have not received any complaints,” she told the Manila Mail. But Padilla admits they are forced to rely on concerned Fil-Ams because there is no Philippine diplomatic post for hundreds of miles from the Pinoys’ work sites.
Padilla herself has come under fire from Yaranon who accused her of trying to convince them to go back to their old jobs.
“We received a letter which expressed the desire of the Labor Attache of the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC. The letter said that instead of spending for our request for shelter and aid, it would be better for us to go back to Mississippi or go back to the Philippines,” Yaranon’s statement read.
He questioned whether Padilla was a friend or foe.
“I am not forcing anyone,” Padilla retorted.
She revealed she met with an official of the US Department of Labor on Nov. 5 to discuss, among others, possible assistance for the Filipino victims.
They could be given U or T visas – which are usually issued to victims or witnesses of crimes being prosecuted in the US – because the Filipinos’ H-2B visas are deemed invalid because they fled their jobs.
Yaranon said they first decided to go public to warn their countrymen against unscrupulous recruiters promising jobs in the US.
This is not the first time Filipinos have been recruited for non-existent jobs in the US. The Filipino Channel’s Balitang America has reported at least two instances where groups of Filipino teachers who paid illegal placement fees, arrived in America only to find out they didn’t have jobs to go to.
Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA) representative in Los Angeles Alberto Duero, who’s directly involved with assisting the affected Filipino workers, said charging or collecting any fees for the filing and processing of an H-2B visa is unlawful.
Officials say enforcing protections for US-bound workers needs to be intensified by both the Philippines and the US, which earlier this year placed the Philippines in the Tier 2 human trafficking watch list.
Padilla indicated some recruiters continuously probe for weaknesses in the issuance of H-2B visas, which is governed by yearly quotas.
Duero reported that this month alone, his office has received 18 complaints of human trafficking. He fears this was only the “tip of the iceberg” because many more Filipino workers may have decided to suffer in silence rather than losing their jobs and being forced to return to the Philippines.
(This is an article written for the Manila Mail's Nov. 15 edition, which also marks the Metro DC-based Fil-Am paper's 20th anniversary)