In response to news that Indian consular officer Devyani Khobragade was indicted on charges of visa fraud and making false statements in order to pay less than minimum wage to Sangeeta Richard, a domestic worker in her employ who fled working conditions that approached human trafficking, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said this:
We applaud the Department of Justice, particularly U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, for its steadfast pursuit of justice in this case.
The indictment of the consular officer itself—a rare occurrence—is a positive step in the movement to uphold the rights of domestic workers. However, when the U.S. Attorney presented the charges, it was revealed that the Department of State recently granted Khobragade diplomatic immunity allowing her to return to India.
We are deeply disappointed by the State Department’s decision to reaccredit Khobragade to the United Nations, which positioned her to be shielded by full diplomatic immunity. Too often immigrant workers are recruited to the United States on a myriad of temporary work visas and find themselves tied to an unscrupulous employer, working far more hours for far less than originally agreed upon. International officers should be held to a higher standard, yet instead they have frequently been able to skirt charges of abuse and fraud in the A-3 visa category for personal employees of foreign officials using diplomatic immunity.
The labor movement will continue to stand with Sangeeta, as she and her family adjust to life in the United States after their trauma. The AFL-CIO will work to ensure the U.S. government applies the full range of protections for domestic workers required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and urges the Department of State to closely scrutinize the officials who utilize the A-3 visa program. The Department should also consider taking action against governments that routinely misuse the program, like India.
The fight for justice is far from over, but this prominent indictment should send a message to other exploitative employers, regardless of their rank or status, that these abuses will not be ignored.