In the foyer of The Prinz Law Firm sits an impressive statue of the Hindu God Ganesh, known as “the remover of obstacles,” bestowed upon me by two clients after their case was resolved. These clients were victims of labor trafficking, forced to work for subpar wages under threat of deportation and separation from their child for years. They were effectively modern-day slaves, and provided me this meaningful gift in thanks for helping them obtain their freedom.
When I first spoke to my clients, they were scared. They had recently escaped their trafficker but did not feel comfortable pursuing legal claims, and they did not want their abuser to know where they lived or what they were doing. They simply wanted to be free and safe. I encouraged them to have faith in the legal system.
My clients came to the United States from India legally with a work permit, but overstayed their visa. They had a young child at the time, and were working hard to secure employment to be able to stay and give their child a brighter future. That is when they were given a “temporary” job offer working at a motel.
This temporary job turned into many years of working around the clock for far below the minimum wage; sometimes they were paid no wages at all. My clients were forced to work even when sick and undergoing cancer treatments. The threat of deportation and separation from their minor child kept them in compliance with the directives of their trafficker. They were forced to live in poor conditions on the job site so they would be available 24/7 for work, often without potable water. When their employer was ill and in the hospital, they finally saw an opportunity to escape.
While a professional colleague of mine worked to ensure their ability to legally stay in the US, I helped them get the wages they were owed for the years of work they were forced to perform. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 (“TVPRA”), victims of labor trafficking not only have the ability to obtain legal permanent residency in the United States, but they can also recover their owed wages though civil action. Recovery includes back wages, liquidated damages, emotional distress damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
Unfortunately, many workers throughout the United States are subjected to discriminatory treatment, subpar wages, uncompensated labor, and other abuse because of their immigration status. These abuses are not simply confined to individuals who have an irregular status, but are also common when employers have legally sponsored the visa of the individual. Trafficked immigrants are often not aware of their rights to pursue legal action or, like my clients, are too scared.
Fortunately for my clients, they were brave and had faith in the legal process. We were able to recover a significant six-figure sum to compensate them for stolen wages and the demeaning situation they experienced. Now that their obstacles have been removed, my clients have a good job, they have purchased their first home, and they are finally able to give their child the life they dreamed of. When I pass by Ganesh and see his trunk turned to the left, symbolizing success in this world, I think of my clients and all that they have been able to overcome and accomplish.