SAN DIEGO – An El Cajon couple were arrested Friday on federal charges for allegedly forcing an Indonesian woman to work in their home for up to 18 hours a day, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Firas Majeed and Shatha Abbas were arraigned Friday following their arrest by HSI special agents.
The two are charged with forced labor; trafficking with respect to forced labor; and document servitude. The charges include allegations that Majeed and Abbas benefitted through a scheme intended to cause the victim to believe she would suffer physical restraint if she did not perform labor and services. Majeed and Abbas also allegedly hid the victim’s passport to restrict her movement and maintain her services.
The victim reported she was previously held at a home belonging to Abbas’ relatives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. In Dubai, the victim was allegedly required to provide domestic services for 20 hours a day, every day, for five years. The victim was not paid a salary, and was directed to travel to the United States and work at Majeed and Abbas’ home.
The complaint further alleges the victim traveled to El Cajon with Majeed in November 2015, and was subsequently required to provide domestic services for the entire household for 16 to 18 hours every day of the week. The victim reported she received no days off and was not paid for her services. The victim reported she speaks no English, had no money, and was not allowed to leave the residence, except to take out the family’s trash.
“Human trafficking is a deplorable practice that amounts to modern slavery, and many of these victims are hiding in plain sight,” said United States Attorney Laura Duffy. “Bringing human traffickers to justice and assisting trafficking survivors is one my top priorities. We all need to work together to recognize the signs and put a stop to this devastating crime.”
HSI special agents rescued the victim from Majeed and Abbas’ home March 22 after she provided a note to a visiting nurse asking for help. The healthcare workers reported to the national Human Trafficking Resource Center that the victim was seen in the back of the residence and was closely monitored. HSI special agents had the note translated, paving the way for the victim’s rescue. U.S. Attorney Duffy praised the victim for having the courage to seek help, and the healthcare workers who responded to her note.
Majeed and Abbas are scheduled for a preliminary examination before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jan M. Adler April 21.
Authorities say victims of labor trafficking are often overwhelmed by fear, and fail to report crimes against them. Frequently the victims are unfamiliar with U.S. culture. They may be unaware of their rights or may have been intentionally misinformed about rights in this country. Many don’t speak English, and are unable to communicate with service providers, police, or others who might be able to help them.
Moreover, trafficking victims frequently don’t self-identify as victims and often blame themselves for their predicament. Many are not in the U.S. legally and are fearful of being arrested or deported. Additionally, some victims fear that speaking out may result in harm to their relatives in their home countries, who are often threatened by traffickers.