Undocumented worker used as slave in Wisconsin home for 19 years

A Wisconsin couple was convicted last week on human trafficking charges, according the Justice Department.

Jefferson and Elnora Calimlim, both physicians in Milwaukee, held an undocumented worker in their home for 19 years. The Filipino woman was threatened as she was confined in the couple’s home, and was told she would be deported if she did not comply with their demands.

According to court documents, the woman was forced to hide in her basement bedroom when guests were visiting the home and she was not permitted to socialise with anyone apart from the immediate family members. Contact with the outside world was severely restricted and all of her out-of-home errands were always supervised by the couple as they tagged along.

Irma Martinez, worked an average of 16 hours and was told often that she would be sent to prison and or deported if the police were called. According to the Associated Press, Martinez only made $18,000 over the 19 year period.

The defendants Jefferson N. Calimlim and Elnora M. Calimlim were convicted of:

  • one count of conspiracy to commit forced labor (18 U.S.C. 371)
  • one count of forced labor (18 U.S.C. 1589)
  • one count of attempted forced labor (18 U.S.C. 1594)

In addition to the charges, the defendants and their son, Jefferson M. Calimlim, were convicted of violating two counts of harboring an undocumented alien (8 U.S.C. 1324). However, the son was acquitted on a charge of false statements (18 U.S.C. 1001) to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

The couple faces a maximum sentence of up to 65 years in prison each, mandatory restitution and $1.25 million in fines. The government is also seeking forfeiture of the Calimlims’ house, since it was used to commit these crimes.

The convictions in this case are the result of a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The case was jointly prosecuted by attorneys from the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

"Preying on this woman’s hope for a better life, this couple instead forced her into a life of involuntary servitude," said Wan J. Kim, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. "The Justice Department takes these crimes seriously and is committed to prosecuting those involved in the systematic abuse and degradation of others."

Human trafficking in the United States has risen dramatically in the last five years. The Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices have prosecuted a record number of human trafficking cases opening 480 new investigations into allegations of human trafficking. This number is approximately 325 percent more than were opened in the previous five-year period.

"In many instances we presume it has to be [trafficking] into the sex industry, by focusing on those we fail to pay attention to equally egregious human rights violations that are going on in other fields like forced labor, slavery, and indebted bondage labor," said Kavita Ramdas, president of the Global Fund for Women.

Nearly a million men, women and children are trafficked across international borders into some sort of forced labor, slavery, or prostitution. Trafficking is not a new concept, but since the U.S. has unstable immigration policies, more and more people are threatened and used as slaves in America.

Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was signed into law in October 2000. A toll-free, 24/7 human trafficking hotline [1] was established to assist victims.


[1]. Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline: 1-888-3737-888