Victims In Slavery Case Look To Remain In The U.S.

Victims in slavery case look to remain in the U.S.

December 19, 2007

The two Indonesian women who testified they were enslaved and tortured knew so little English, they had to use hand signals and bursts of tears to plead for help from sympathetic employees of the perfume company owned by Varsha and Mahender Sabhnani.

But now Samirah and Enung are learning English.

As the Sabhnanis await sentencing after being convicted of slavery and torture, Enung, 46, and Samirah, 51, are preparing for what they would like to be a future life in the United States, according to sources familiar with their situation.

They are temporarily being financially supported by Catholic Charities, which has the contract from the Justice Department to assist victims of human trafficking, and being cared for by an order of nuns in Amityville, the sources said.

The U.S. Department of Labor is determining how much money the Sabhnanis owe them in back wages, federal prosecutors Mark Lesko and Demetri Jones said yesterday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip. Lesko had estimated that the two women, working a 17-hour shift seven days a week at the Sabhnanis's home, were paid less than 20 cents an hour.

While they admittedly entered the country illegally to support their families in Indonesia, they were given an emergency yearlong visa to stay to testify at the federal trial. Samirah has five children and Enung nine.

That visa expires in May, exactly a year after Samirah fled the Sabhnanis' home in Muttontown. But the two women are further entitled to a special T-visa for trafficking victims that entitles them to an additional four years, the sources said.

When the T-visa expires, Samirah and Enung would be eligible to receive a green card.

Enung testified at the trial that she is enjoying one of the minor perks of freedom.

She said that when she was “loaned out” to work at friends of the Sabhnanis, she enjoyed eating what she called “biscuits,” her name for a large cookie.

“Now I go to the market” to buy them, she said at the trial.