By Yong B. Chavez
Former Philippine schoolteacher and Dipolog native Nena Ruiz gets justice.
Her former employers, Elizabeth and James Jackson of Culver City, pleaded guilty Monday to forcing Ruiz to work against her will in their home for months. Federal officials called this case a "modern-day slavery."
In 2004, her case hogged headlines when she was awarded $825 thousand by a Sta. Monica jury. Reportedly, the couple had filed for bankruptcy.
"I think it's a landmark case," said Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, executive director of Pilipino Workers' Center, a Filipino organization that has provided assistance to Ruiz. "It calls for stricter enforcement of trafficking laws."
One of the things that struck Annalisa Enrile, Gabriela Network USA chairperson, in this case was the fact that Elizabeth Jackson is a Filipina and a kababayan of Ruiz. GABNET was one of the first organizations to give aid to Ruiz when her plight was exposed.
"I think it's to our benefit that we are made aware that things like this are not only done by menacing foreigners," Enrile said.
Elizabeth Jackson faces a maximum sentence of 46 months in prison for her forced labor charge while husband James’ sentence will include 200 hours of community service. They are scheduled for sentencing this Nov. 5.
Ruiz is now living and working in Los Angeles with her husband. She is currently employed as a caregiver.
Here's the complete press release from the Department of Justice:
California Couple Pleads Guilty to Human Trafficking Charges
WASHINGTON - Elizabeth and James Jackson, of Culver City, Calif., pleaded guilty today in federal court in Los Angeles to felony charges related to forced labor and human trafficking. Elizabeth Jackson pleaded guilty to a single count of forced labor, and James Jackson pleaded guilty to a single count of alien harboring.
Elizabeth Jackson admitted to forcing a Filipino woman to work against her will in the Jacksons’ home for several months in 2001 and 2002 by creating a climate of fear through threats of abuse of the legal process. James Jackson admitted to harboring the same Filipino woman in the Jacksons’ Culver City home for several months in 2001 and 2002, even though he knew her work visa had expired.
Elizabeth Jackson faces a maximum sentence of 46 months in prison for her forced labor charge. James Jackson’s sentence will include 200 hours of community service, including providing immigration-related legal advice for indigents. Both of the Jacksons are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 5, 2007.
“These defendants subjected their victim to what amounts to modern-day slavery,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. “The Justice Department will remain dedicated to rooting out this horrible crime and prosecuting those who would enslave others.”
“No person should ever be forced to live in a world of fear, isolation and servitude, particularly in a country that prides itself on its freedoms,” said Julie Myers, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “Today’s guilty pleas should send a message to those who traffic in human beings that ICE is committed to protecting those who cannot protect themselves.”
“Freedom is the most basic of human rights and no one has the right to harbor illegal aliens and force them into labor,” said Salvador Hernandez, Deputy Assistant Director for the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI takes human trafficking crimes very seriously and is committed to investigating those involved in the systematic abuse and degradation of this essential right.”
The Attorney General has made the prosecution of human trafficking crimes a top priority. In the last six fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, has increased by six-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed in court.
The case was prosecuted by Special Litigation Counsel Andrew J. Kline from the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and Douglas Kern from the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. The case was investigated by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Labor.