[UPDATE: 6:40 p.m. EDT] The Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. confirmed on its Twitter feed that the four Filipino women found by authorities at the apartment complex are "doing well in NGO shelter in Irvine, California."
Original story begins here:
Meshael Alayban, a 42-year-old wife of a Saudi provincial governor, was arraigned Thursday in Santa Ana, Calif., for allegedly abusing the 30-year-old Kenyan maid she brought with her from Saudi Arabia.
“As of right now she is facing one felony count of human trafficking. She appeared in court and has not entered a plea,” Farrah Emami of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office told International Business Times by phone. The next hearing is scheduled for July 29.
It’s the first case of its kind brought under California’s Proposition 35, which increased penalties for human trafficking from three to five years to five to 12. Alayban and others could face additional counts related to four other women, all Filipinos, found working for the family. The allegations also suggest that wage violations could emerge later, but as of now prosecutors are focusing on the one count of human trafficking.
“It’s a brand new case,” said Emami. “We have not ruled out the possibility of additional victims or of additional defendants.”
Alayban’s attorney, Paul Meyer, says this is a simple dispute over work hours that went awry.
The defendant was released Wednesday on $5 million bail and has been ordered to submit to GPS monitoring and not to leave Orange County without authorization.
"The laws of our nation and California do not tolerate people who deprive or violate the liberty of another and obtain forced labor or services," said District Attorney Tony Rackauckas on Wednesday in announcing the charges.
The case has received considerable attention in Saudi Arabia because of the defendant’s relationship to the Saudi royal family. She’s one of the wives of Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud, governor of Saudi Arabia’s central Kharj province. He is one of the multitude of grandsons of the country’s founder, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, and a nephew of all the kings since then. The Saudi news site Star of Arabia posted a photo of the governor and his wife’s California mug shot.
According to the DA’s office, Jane Doe, as the Kenyan woman is being identified for the time being, began working for Alayban in March 2012 in Saudi Arabia. On May 6, 2013, Alayban, who has traveled frequently between her home country and Southern California, where many wealthy Saudis have second homes, brought the maid into the country after securing a work visa for her. According to the victim, she was then forced to do cleaning for eight family members in four apartments for $220 a month with no days off.
Alayban is accused of holding Jane Doe’s passport and other travel documents in order to keep her from fleeing. Keeping someone from traveling by keeping their travel documents from them is a crime in the United States but common and legal in Saudi Arabia. The victim also claims that she was allowed out of the apartment complex only to carry the family’s bags. When the authorities searched the residence they found four Filipino women working for the family. This could lead to more counts against the defendant and possibly others. Filipino women are commonly employed in Saudi Arabia as housemaids.
While Proposition 35 mainly targets sex traffickers who bring prostitutes into the United States and California and then force them into the sex trade, it can also apply to any case where a person is brought across international borders and forced to work against his or her will.
“We tend to focus on sex trafficking because most cases like this involve sex trafficking,” Daphne Phung, founder of California Against Slavery, which pushed for the passage of Proposition 35, told IBTimes by phone on Thursday as Alayban was in court. “But we are very excited to know that Orange Country is getting to prosecute the case under Proposition 35. It’s not that making it a federal case is a bad thing; it’s simply a resources issue. Local prosecutors here have a lot of local resources; they collaborate closely with the police and the community when it comes to this type of crime.”
The case is reminiscent of one from 2006 in Colorado where Saudi national Homaidan Ali Al-Turki, 44, was sentenced to 28 years after being found guilty of sexually assaulting his Indonesian maid. In that case the defendant, who was a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and his wife were also charged with labor violations and ordered to pay back wages to the victim.
Maids are allowed to be brought into the country under the B-1 domestic servant visa. The rules allow non-immigrant visa holders to bring in their servants under certain conditions. Among those conditions is one that requires that the servant must have worked for the employer for at least a year prior to entering the U.S. The employer must provide free room and board to the servant and provide round trip airfare to and from the country. U.S. citizens are typically not allowed to bring in domestic workers under the B-1 visa.