By Meghan Hampsey
Last week a couple from Katy, Texas was charged with forced labor, withholding documents, conspiracy to harbor an illegal alien, and visa fraud. Chudy and Sandra Nsobundu, Nigerian immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens, allegedly brought a 38- year- old Nigerian woman to the United States with the promise that she would be paid $100 per month to care for their five children. The victim cared for the couple’s two adopted children in Nigeria and was led to believe the same circumstances would apply when she came to the United States. However, she was never paid for two years of work.
The Nsobundus regularly dehumanized her through verbal and physical abuse, referring to her as “the idiot,” physically assaulting her, and forcing her to work 20 hours per day. They also took her passport and travel documents and kept her isolated, not allowing her to make phone calls and restricting her movement. The victim was only allowed outside the home to accompany the children to church and on short walks around the neighborhood. These are some of the key elements of labor trafficking: perpetrators often control the victim through isolation, withholding documentation, coercion, and abuse.
The victim escaped on October 10th, 2015 with the help of a tip to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. The Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance in Houston, a partnership between law enforcement and service providers, including Homeland Security, Fort Bend Sheriff’s Office, and the Department of Justice, is conducting the investigation. This is a prime example of how collaboration can help improve the identification and prosecution of labor trafficking cases and increase the risks for perpetrators.
If convicted, the Nsobundus face up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 maximum fine. The victim should receive restitution for her years of forced labor. As part of a victim centered approach to combating human trafficking, all judges must enforce restitution for the victims as is mandated under The Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Consistent implementation of victim restitution will help flip the risk-reward equation for traffickers.
The Department of Justice’s collaboration with multiple levels of law enforcement in this investigation is promising. We hope to see more of such collaboration along with an increase in the number of labor trafficking investigations. For more recommendations on how to dismantle the business of human trafficking, see our blueprint.