On August 8, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent an indicting letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to implement promptly the recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) after its investigation into the abuse and exploitation of domestic workers, predominantly women, by foreign diplomats. The GAO report (PDF), released in late July, documents the State Department's failure to investigate and address this widespread and longstanding problem.
Each year the State Department issues more than 2,000 A-3 and G-5 visas that allow diplomats to bring into the U.S. their "attendants, servants, or personal employees." Yet little is done to provide these workers with information or support that could protect them against physical, emotional or sexual abuse and trafficking. And even when the worker can escape from the diplomat's home and tries to hold him accountable, she must overcome the so-far impossible hurdle of diplomatic immunity.
In light of these facts, Sen. Durbin demanded answers to a series of pointed questions about the State Department's reluctance to take responsibility for the treatment of domestic workers after it provides them visas to enter the United States. He also correctly characterized as "unacceptable" the State Department's long delays in providing information during investigations into allegations of abuse.
Senator Durbin also expressed concern about the State Department's opposition to certain provisions in the Senate version of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) (S. 3061) which he has cosponsored with Senators Biden, Brownback, and others. One such provision would require the State Department to interview domestic workers before renewing their visas in order to ensure they are not being abused. TheState Department's objection? The interviews would be too burdensome.
"Why is this small burden not outweighed by the benefit of discovering whether domestic workers are being abused or exploited?"
It's encouraging to see that there are still lawmakers willing to defend the human rights of those who are most vulnerable. Thank you, Senator Durbin, for calling the State Department to task for its utter disregard for the lives of women who came to this country to provide for themselves and their families and instead became modern-day slaves.
We hope Secretary Rice takes to heart Senator Durbin's request to "act expeditiously and diligently to hold diplomats accountable for their actions" and to stop turning a blind eye to the impunity with which diplomats and members of their households abuse their domestic workers. And we will continue to work with Senators Durbin, Biden, Brownback, Representative Berman and others in Congress to preserve and further strengthen the TVPRA provisions that protect workers and hold diplomats accountable.
To read profiles of domestic workers who have come forward and to learn more about the ACLU's work on this issue, check out: www.aclu.org/domesticworkers.