FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
17 October 2012
Zarah Vinola, National Alliance for FIlipino Concerns (NAFCON) U.S. North East
Publicity Committee Head, firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW YORK — Jacqueline Aguirre, one of the trafficked workers who came out into the open in 2009, has been granted her T-visa (T-Nonimmigrant Classification) by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Department of Homeland Security.
The T-visa granted to Aguirre is valid for a period of 4 years, starting September 21, 2012 to September 20, 2016. She is now authorized to work in the United States within the validity period. In relation to this, Aguirre’s removal proceedings had also been terminated by the immigration judge on October 11, 2012.
“I am so happy. This is a proof that victories can be achieved if we fight for it. I spoke up against the injustice done to me, so other people heard and helped me through this ordeal. I know I did not do anything wrong and that gave me the strength and confidence to speak out and fight for my rights,” Aguirre said.
The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), with its member organizations in the North East, has helped in introducing Aguirre’s case to the community as part of its Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) Campaign in December 2010, along with the case of Leticia Moratal, who has also been granted the T-visa early this year.
“We admire the courage of trafficked survivors, such as Ms. Aguirre’s, to stand up for their rights. Ms. Aguirre’s experience is one of the inspirations for many of our other kababayans who have been trafficked to the United States and an eye-opener for the community that these kinds of abuses also happen even in the land of milk and honey,” said Michelle Saulon, NAFCON North East Coordinator.
Aguirre’s Case: An Ugly Truth to Filipino Migrants’ Situation in the U.S.
Based from the lawsuit pending in the Eastern District Court of New York, Aguirre worked as a staff accountant in Best Care Agency owned by Dorothy de Castro and Perlita Jordan in Floral Park, New York starting in 2001. The agency promised to sponsor her as an H-1B worker and to pay her initially at the rate of $19 per hour for a regular 40-hour work week.
After her H-1B petition was approved, Aguirre was not paid the prevailing wage rate or the offered wage. Her compensation was cut in half. The agency then represented to her that she would receive the prevailing wage rate once she received her green card, which they likewise promised they would initiate. She was told that if she did not agree to receive the less pay, they would discontinue their H-1B sponsorship and she would become unlawfully present and could be deported. Not wanting to be deported, Aguirre begrudingly accepted the agency’s conditions, and hoped that her green card sponsorship would be approved soon, as her employers kept on reminding her they had the financial capability to sponsor her immigrant petition.
Even while her green card application was pending, Aguirre demanded that she be paid the prevailing wage rate. Her employers told her to wait for her green card approval. In April 2009, the USCIS denied Best Care Agency’s immigrant petition in Aguirre’s behalf as Best Care failed to submit sufficient evidence to convince the USCIS it had the financial capability to pay Aguirre the offered wage. Best Care had fraudulently represented to Aguirre it had the financial capability so that it could continue to have her work for less pay. As a result of Best Care’s financial incapability, Aguirre’s adjustment or green card application was likewise denied, and she was put in removal proceedings.
“Aside from applying for T-visa, we also filed a federal complaint against Aguirre’s former employers for violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), forced labor, involuntary servitude, fraudulent inducement and negligent misrepresentation. We are seeking compensatory damages by way of overdue wage adjustments worth at least $300,000, plus moral damages related to the abuse of Aguirre by her employers, as well as the suffering she had to undergo for having been put in removal proceedings” says Atty. Felix Vinluan, the immigration and civil rights lawyer, whose Foundation for Immigration and Employment Rights Advocacy handled Aguirre’s case.
Atty. Vinluan has also taken on other cases in court against human and labor trafficking of Filipinos in the U.S. East Coast.
“This has been a roller-coaster ride for Ms. Aguirre and the fight is not over yet, so she would need all the community support that she can get. There are also many more like Ms. Aguirre out there who need to be empowered to speak against these kinds of injustices and let them know that they have rights as im/migrants, documented or undocumented alike,” continued Saulon.
Trafficked Survivors with Community Rise Up!
“Acquiring the T-visa is just one of the many victories of the community that we will achieve in our campaign against labor and human trafficking. We have a lot more victories to look forward to. We will continuously fight and hold actions — whether be it in the streets or through cultural activities and educational discussions — against the Philippine government’s continuous implementation of the Labor Export Policy (LEP),” said Jonna Baldres, NAFCON Deputy General Secretary.
NAFCON believes that the LEP, a policy which sends our kababayans away from the homeland to work abroad, makes the Filipino migrants prone to abuses by employers. The migrant sector has also been a powerful force for decades and has become a main source of the country’s wealth through remittances. NAFCON believes, however, that keeping the migrants under the system of forced migration is still not the solution to the country’s economic problems.
“We must continue to demand for the Philippine government to create jobs in the motherland and address the basic needs and issues of the people — such as national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform — for the people to not leave and seek work abroad. Our kababayans do not deserve to undergo these abuses under the unjust system of forced migration,” Baldres continued.
Aguirre, along with other trafficked survivors, have joined actions, spoke in forums, and tirelessly called for a STOP to Human and Labor Trafficking, making the issue more widely known to the Filipino community not only in the United States but also in the Philippines, and also generating more consciousness and awareness on how to fight against it.
NAFCON and its member organizations nationwide have also helped in rallying the community to garner support for the cases of Elma Manliguez, Leticia Moratal, Sentosa 27++, Florida 15, Arizona 34, Adman 11 and many more who have been trafficked into the U.S. as early as year 2000.
“The collective efforts of Ms. Aguirre, other trafficked survivors and the community — from the church members to community grassroots organizations who support her fight — will never go to waste. Every step is a victory towards achieving justice and a better Philippines for all migrants and all our loved ones back home,” Baldres ended.
For those interested to take part in the Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) Campaign, or get updated on recent and upcoming activities organized by the STOP Task Force, please email Michelle Saulon at email@example.com or Yves Nibungco at firstname.lastname@example.org. ###
Jacqueline Aguirre, trafficked survivor, with immigration and labor lawyer Atty. Felix Vinluan, upon receiving her T-visa and the good news of the termination of her removal proceedings on Oct 11, 2012
Jacqueline Aguirre, trafficked survivor, holding the “STOP Trafficking Our People” sign, with community organizations at the May 1st Coalition March for Workers’ and Immigrants’ Rights on International Workers’ Day, May 2011
Jacqueline Aguirre, trafficked survivor, with the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) calling to Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) at the Philippine Independence Day Celebration in Manhattan, June 2011
Jacqueline Aguirre, trafficked survivor, with member organizations of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) calling to Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) and Justice for Overseas Filipino Workers at the Philippine Independence Day Celebration in Manhattan, June 2011
Jacqueline Aguirre, trafficked survivor, speaking at a Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) Campaign Forum attended by members of the Filipino and non-Filipino communities in New York University organized by the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), June 2012
Jacqueline Aguirre, trafficked survivor, at the frontline of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) contingent calling to Stop Trafficking Our People (STOP) at the Philippine Independence Day Celebration in Manhattan, June 2012