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Mexican Housekeeper Says She Was Enslaved

SAN DIEGO (CN) - A Mexican housekeeper claims a married couple paid coyotes to smuggle her into the United States, then held her captive for 6 years and put her to forced labor for more than 100 hours a week in their home. She seeks damages of $125,800 in back wages, and punitive damages for slavery.

Rosa Romero Hernandez claims in Federal Court that Samad and Yvonne Attisha of La Mesa had their secretary hire coyotes, or human smugglers, to smuggle her into the United States for $1,500 - a "debt" she says the Attishas forced her to work off.

Hernandez says she was "enticed" to work for the couple by their secretary, who told her they "agreed to pay her $7 her pour to work as a babysitter for their infant daughter." She says the secretary gave her counterfeit travel documents and promised that the couple would "fix her papers" once she arrived in the United States.

Upon her arrival in 2002, Hernandez says, the Attishas confiscated her passport and put her to work "cooking, cleaning, babysitting, doing laundry, yard work and all housekeeping duties." She says she worked 101 hours a week, days seven days a week, for less than minimum wage.

Hernandez says her captors instructed her to "hide in the house when pedestrians walked by" and forbade her from contacting anyone. She says the Atishas took her entire first year's wages to reimburse the coyotes and pay for her airfare.

Hernandez says she was rescued in 2008 by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after the Attishas' gardener reported her situation to the authorities.

In an interview, Hernandez's attorney, Michael Stimson, called the gardener a "good Samaritan."

Stimson said the gardener saw how the Attishas were treating Hernandez and "told her it wasn't right." But Hernandez "didn't think there was anything she could do," Stimson said.

Hernandez seeks her back wages of over $125,000 and damages for human trafficking, peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, and other claims. She represented by Michael Stimson and Andrew Dallman with Howrey of Irvine.

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