Enslaved In Suburbia

An excellent look into the lives of modern-day slaves in California by Gendy Alimurung for the LA Weekly tells the story of two women who came to the United States in search of the American dream and came face to face with the cruelty of modern slavery.

The girls next door never rest. They work day and night and weekends taking care of the old people, and they never, ever leave the eldercare home on Vernon Street, hidden in plain sight inside an ordinary suburban tract house in Long Beach with light-tan stucco, white trim, burgundy awnings, a two-car garage and an American flag waving in the front entryway. Like the home’s owners, the girls are Filipino, with dark skin and dark hair. They might be pretty, if not for their miserable expressions.

Jokingly, the man next door asks the girls, “Do you ever get a day off?”

No, he finally realizes, they never do.

The man, who refuses to be identified in the article gets the Feds involved. This is California, where stars are made and it shows. When the Feds raid one of the traffickers’ homes, neighbors wonder whether another episode of Dexter is being filmed. The reality is far more disturbing.

Housing victims at traffickers’ own residences, it seems, is the norm. A profile of typical traffickers emerges. They engender mutual mistrust among the victims and instill what FBI agent Tricia Whitehall calls, in an affidavit filed in federal court, “a climate of fear” — fear of law enforcement, fear of reprisals if they stop working. Traffickers keep large sums of cash on hand. Most are vigilant record keepers — of money wires both international and domestic. Records are often written in code and by hand. They take photos of their victims. They take custody of their victims’ identification documents and passports. However futile it sounds, sometimes victims keep their own records of debt payments so they can reconcile them with their oppressors’ records.

“They are soiling what America is. They were exploiting these girls and writing off electricity, gas, water.” [A neighbor tells the LA Weekly] Can you imagine calling that a small business?”

Many do. Several years ago, Nena Ruiz, a Filipino woman working as a domestic servant for a vice president of legal affairs for Sony Pictures Entertainment sued him and his wife for enslaving her. She worked 18 hours a day performing what one paper described as “strange household chores,” which included microwaving chicken nuggets and cutting up bananas and pears for the couple’s dogs. Ruiz, meanwhile, was fed leftovers and slept in a dog bed. A jury awarded her $825,000 in back wages and punitive damages. In another instance, Elma Manliguez was paid 6 cents an hour to work under slavelike conditions as a caregiver for the family of a Merrill Lynch executive in New Jersey. They settled with her for $175,000. Then last year, a Milwaukee jury awarded close to $1 million in compensation to a Filipino woman who worked illegally for 20 years for a Wisconsin physician couple.

This is modern slavery in our country. Read more here.

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