Monday, December 13, 2010


A Fil-Am couple in Florida were meted long prison sentences for conspiring to hold 39 overseas Filipino workers to work in virtual slavery in country clubs and hotels in Southeast Florida, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement released today.


“Sophia Manuel and Alfonso Baldonado Jr., owners of Quality Staffing Services Corporation, a labor contracting service, were sentenced Friday in West Palm Beach for conspiring to hold approximately 39 Filipino nations in forced service.

“Manuel was also sentenced for making false statements on an application she filed with the US Department of Labor to obtain foreign labor certifications and visas under the federal H2B guest worker program.

“Manuel was sentenced to 78 months (6 ½ years) in federal prison and Baldonado to 51 months (4 years & 3 months) in prison.

“Manuel and Baldonado previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to obtain a cheap, compliant and readily available labor pool by making false promises to entice the victims to incur debts to pay up-front recruitment fees.

“Defendants then compelled the victims’ labor and services through threats to have the workers arrested and deported, knowing the workers faced serious economic harm and possible incarceration for nonpayment of debts in the Philippines.

“’Human traffickers target vulnerable victims, including minors, who desire a better life and end up being lured into a situation where they are deprived of their basic human rights, ‘ said ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Director John Morton.

’These deplorable conditions will not be tolerated in this country and ICE will continue its commitment to rescue victims of this form of modern day slavery and arrest the traffickers that exploit them.

“’These defendants exploited vulnerable individuals for their own financial gain, depriving the victims of their civil rights’, said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney generation for the Civil Rights Division.

“’The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute cases of forced labor where victims have been robbed of their freedom and dignity.’

“US Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer stated, ‘Today’s sentencing reminds us that America remains a land of freedom and opportunity for immigrants, not servitude and fear. Forced labor is illegal and we will enforce the laws that protect our immigrant communities from abuse.”

This conviction can be a legal precedent for other pending cases of labor abuse and exploitation, including those involving scores of Filipino teachers in Louisiana and more recently, Filipino workers who fled jobs in Mississippi after they were exploited by their recruiters and employers -- these could be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

More on this when we discuss in this blog the proposed enactment of a Magna Carta for Overseas Filipino Workers.

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