An alleged victim of human trafficking is suing her former employer who she accuses of treating her like a slave.
Edelynne Bergado, who filed a suit against Marlon and Nelle-Ann Velonza , claims that she was lured to the U.S. with promises of a green card and a well-paying job.
Upon Bergado’s arrival in 2014, however, the Velonza couple allegedly confiscated her passport and forced Edelynne into involuntary servitude for almost three years. Bergado says she was forced to work over 14 hours a day, seven days a week, for virtually no pay. The suit alleges she suffered extreme verbal abuse and was forbidden from leaving the defendants’ apartment without supervision, prohibited from speaking to anyone outside, and monitored through security cameras when left alone.
“They said don’t talk to other people, do not show your face,” Bergado told journalist Emil Guillermo. “I’m like in jail. I stay alone in the house… I feel like I’m in a prison… I’m always crying.”
“Edelynne was treated like a slave,” said Laboni Hoq, Advancing Justice-LA’s Director of Impact Litigation. “The defendants in this case knowingly benefited from human trafficking. It is illegal to lure someone into the country, keep them effectively imprisoned, and make them work for pennies an hour.”
Originally from a rural town in the Philippines, Bergado worked at a cosmetics factory operated by relatives of the defendants. The factory operators introduced Bergado to the Velonzas, who asked her to accompany and care for Velonza’s elderly mother on a trip to California. Barged reluctantly agreed after being promised increased wages and school tuition for her children. When Marlon Velonza’s mother returned to the Philippines a month after their arrival, the Velonzas allegedly refused to let Bergado go back with her.
The Velonzas are accused of forcing her to cook and clean for them, their two children, and Mrs. Velonza’s brother Nelson Dominguiano Orqueza, who lives with his family in an adjacent apartment, according to Bergado.
In addition, the Velonzas allegedly required her to perform work for Etta’s International Cosmetics, a skin bleaching and facial business that Mrs. Velonza runs out of their apartment. According to Bergado, she was regularly used as a guinea pig to test the skincare products made out of household cleaning products. To this day, she suffers from skin irritations related to her skin being burned.
Bergado says because of the defendants’ relentless intimidation and confiscation of her belongings, the 30-year old felt compelled to continue working for them despite the inhumane conditions in which she lived and worked. In January 2017, she escaped her alleged traffickers when she was rescued by the police.
“We hope Edelynne’s case sends a message to other trafficking victims that their situation is not hopeless,” said Amy Gallegos, attorney and partner at Jenner & Block. “There are legal remedies and sources of assistance available to them.”
Bergado is suing the defendants for violations of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the California Labor Code, and other violations of the law.
The human trafficking victims are typically given T-visas to allow them to stay in the U.S. and — if they wish — apply for permanent residency.
“We have seen that many Filipinos in the United States endure human trafficking, deceptive recruitment practices, and other forms of labor exploitation,” said Christopher Lapinig, Registered Legal Services Attorney at Advancing Justice-LA. “It is encouraging when, after escaping their traffickers, survivors like Edelynne stand up and seek justice. We hope that Edelynne’s bravery inspires other survivors to do the same.”
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