By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – A Filipina immigrant has won a $1.2 million in damages in a human trafficking civil lawsuit against a former foreign student at the U.S. Naval War College.
In a statement issued late Friday by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Elizabeth Ballesteros won the judgment against Col. Arif Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al-Ali of the United Arab Emirates.
Col. Al-ali was a student at the International Program of the U.S. Naval War College when the alleged incidents took place two years ago, AALDEF said.
“The $1.2 million judgment reflects the suffering and emotional toll human trafficking has on its victims,” said Ivy O. Suriyopas of AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative. “This is a victory that we hope will encourage policy makers to recognize the severity of all forms of trafficking within the borders of the United States.”
Ballesteros was a domesic helper in the Ali-Ali household in the United
Arab Emirates when she was taken to the U.S.
She worked at the Al-Ali’s home in Rhode island, starting in 2010, providing services to Al-Ali, his wife Samah Alhamoodi and their children.
According to the complaint, Al-Ali “subjected her to involuntary servitude, forced labor, debt bondage, and slavery” for three months.
She was forbidden to have a day off, prevented from talking to anyone outside of the household, withheld her passport and only occasionally sent her wages to her family in the Philippines.
When she finally was able to escape, she sought the help of AALDEF, an Asian-American civil rights non-profit group based in Washington, D.C.
Suriyopas said that the judge on the case, Judge McConnell, ordered Al-Ali to pay Ballesteros $10,000 per day for each of the 84 days that he found that Ballesteros was imprisoned and subject to emotional abuse.
However, in early 2012, Al-Ali’s former attorney said that Al-Ali returned to the UAE because he did not want to spend any more money on the lawsuit and does not have any known assets in Rhode Island.
Al-Ali has not appeared to defend himself in court since early 2012.
“Ms. Ballesteros finally had the opportunity to give unfettered testimony in a court of law,” said Suriyopas. “The judge recognized the ‘outrageous, illegal, and inhumane conduct’ she suffered at the hands of the defendant. Her experience as an immigrant domestic worker is all too common, and we are committed to helping her recover and seek justice.”
Samuel Bodurtha, an associate at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Rhode Island, has served pro-bono co-counsel on the case.
Despite the judgement, however, it would be hard to collect on the damages, Suriyopas said.
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