A Filipina maid, who was brought to the U.S. by a Kuwaiti diplomat who made her work 20-hour days for a few dollars pay, has reached a settlement with her former employer after he agreed to pay her back wages, reports The FilAm. The story points to a growing problem of domestic workers being exploited by diplomats hiding behind diplomatic immunity.
Deadema ‘Dema’ Ramos narrated her harrowing experience, which began in 2009 when she arrived in New York City with her employer, a Kuwaiti diplomat assigned to the UN mission. On arrival, the diplomat confiscated her passport and confined her to the house.
Dema was subjected to inhuman working conditions, working 20 hours a day, seven days a week for a paltry $400 a month. She would send most of her earnings to the Philippines to support her five children. She said she got very little rest and not enough to eat and, she lost a lot of weight.
“I want people to realize that this is really happening here in America to domestic workers,” said Dema at a Sept. 13 press conference organized by Damayan and the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center. She said she steeled herself against the physical and psychological abuse because she needed the job to support her family in the Philippines.
She also alleged the diplomat made her sign documents she was not allowed to read, restricted her movements and kept her hostage through fear and manipulation. Nearly a year after arriving in New York, Dema met a Filipina who gave her the phone number of Damayan, a grassroots organization advocating for the rights of low-wage Filipino migrant workers. Damayan helped Dema escape, and two years later she is one of Damayan’s most active organizers.
The diplomat recently agreed to a settlement after Dema sent him a demand letter, threatening to file a suit if she was not paid her wages. She has also been granted legal immigration status as a trafficking victim. There is growing evidence of exploitation of domestic workers by U.S.-based diplomats. According to the Government Accountability Office, there were 42 documented cases of domestic workers being abused by diplomats between 2000 and 2007. The State Department mentioned over a dozen lawsuits and criminal investigation of diplomats in its 2011 and 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report.
“This legal settlement is proof that trafficking victims can win justice, even when the trafficker is a diplomat,” said Nicole Hallett, staff attorney at the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project. “Diplomats can no longer hide behind diplomatic immunity to abuse their workers.”
Roughly 4,300 Filipinos leave their country every day; 90 percent of them are women, and 70 percent become domestic workers in countries like the U.S. There are over 200,000 domestic workers in NYC, 15 percent of whom are Filipinos, according to the Damayan-UJC statement.