Elizabeth Iguago came to the United States from Ecuador to work for an IMF official. She was later illegally "loaned out" to a couple where she served as cook, babysitter, hairdresser, and personal attendant for as much as 84 hours a week. She was paid approximately 50 cents an hour.
Iguago is one of thousands of workers who come to this country each year on special A-3 or G-5 visas as household servants for diplomats and employees of international agencies, according to the Campaign for Migrant Domestic Workers Rights (202-234-9382). Once the paperwork is filed, the State Department, international institutions, and embassies take a hands-off approach. For many women the time spent as a domestic worker in the United States is good and lucrative, allowing them to send money home. Others find themselves imprisoned in a nightmare of exploitation, overwork, and even sexual abuse with little knowledge of their rights.
Lawyers, social service agencies, and religious leaders are organizing to assist these domestic workers and to change policies to better protect their rights. "My belief is that the best defense against abuse and exploitation is a vigilant public," said Campaign director Joy Zarembka, whose mother is a domestic worker from Kenya. "We usually hear about these cases from concerned citizens who suspect a maid is being mistreated, so Im a big fan of nosy neighbors!"