In 2012, Engracia Hernández-García was offered a job as a domestic worker on a B-1 visa. But when she arrived at her employers’ house in the US, she realized conditions were far from what she was promised.
But Engracia is fighting back. Today, Engracia filed a lawsuit against her two employers and two people involved in her recruitment. CDM and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP (WilmerHale) are representing Engracia in the case in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.
For the next seven years of her life, according to the complaint, Engracia was paid at most $400 a week -– less than half the minimum wage and without overtime pay – while being required to work between 76 and 90 hours a week, cleaning her employers’ large home, assisting with the cooking, and serving as the primary caretaker for her employers’ children.
Engracia’s employers socially and physically isolated her, according to the complaint. As the complaint alleges, Engracia’s employers confiscated her passport and visa, limiting her ability to leave the United States and her workplace, where she was subjected to traumatic working and living conditions.
“Knowing my rights gives me the strength to do this,” said Engracia. “I’d like other people who are going through what I went through to know that we have rights. I’d like to tell them: don’t be afraid, don’t back down, don’t feel cornered. Know your worth and speak out for your rights. You are not alone.”
The pandemic has highlighted that domestic workers are essential workers. Yet, their labor and their rights are regularly undermined by employers. The existing temporary labor migration programs, including the B-1 visa, link workers to their employers, restricting their freedom to travel and find another job when facing abuse. Simply put, the structure of these programs facilitates trafficking for migrant workers like Engracia.
For 16 years, we’ve seen how labor trafficking often begins when workers are recruited in their home communities. This is why we are advocating to strengthen recruitment protections for migrant workers across industries and visa categories. These long-overdue provisions involve creating a public registry of recruiters, banning recruitment fees, prohibiting discrimination, and providing access to justice for workers who report abuse. By increasing transparency and oversight, these changes would prevent trafficking and forced labor for workers like Engracia.
We’re honored to fight alongside Engracia to remove the border as a barrier to justice for migrant workers. Would you consider making a donation to support our work holding employers accountable?