GALVESTON – A group of Vietnamese laborers claim they were lured to the United States by the promise of good paying jobs only to be made to work in a situation they describe as indentured servitude.
According to a lawsuit filed April 13 in the Galveston Division of the Southern District of Texas, the plaintiffs claim International Investment Trade and Service Group and General Automotive Industry Corp. violated their Thirteenth Amendment rights. They are seeking more than $100 million in damages.
The complainants are spread out between Texas and Louisiana -- with nine of them residing in Galveston County – and are represented by The Buzbee Law Firm and The Tammy Tran Law Firm.
The original complaint states the workers responded to a commercial on Vietnamese television in early 2008 seeking welders to work in the U.S. The applicants were required to pay between $7,000 and $15,000 to secure the 30-month jobs and pay a portion of their wages to the companies' American agents, the suit states.
The plaintiffs claim International Investment Trade and Service Group and General Automotive Industry guaranteed them visa assistance, lodging, food and transportation to and from the stateside work site in return for the payments.
"The defendants made it clear that they were working with United States companies who would assist and help coordinate the logistics of the venture while in the United States," the suit says.
"Because the jobs were high paying and long term, and because the defendants were providing all of the necessities, the plaintiffs agreed to the venture despite the high cost."
Several of the plaintiffs claim they were required to provide the defendants with a deed of trust to their homes. They state they paid the fees upfront and received a receipt confirming payment on the defendants' stationary and had their pictures taken prior to their departure.
After flying from Vietnam to Houston, the plaintiffs met with the defendants' U.S.-based agents and assigned to companies near the Houston Ship Channel, the suit states. Despite promises of comfortable and adequate housing, the workers allege they were billeted in a rundown, dilapidated two-bedroom apartment in Pasadena.
According to the suit, the plaintiffs' new lives in Houston were "filled with hard work and dreary, isolated living."
In addition, a poor command of the English language prevented them from communicating with others and enabled the defendants to commit exploitation and make threats, the original petition says.
The plaintiffs also claim they worked only eight of the 30 months with the defendants. They allege they were fired and the companies then brought in "a new set of hopeful, unsuspecting workers" in late February 2009. The plaintiffs' questions about the work term and their visas were never answered, the suit says.
They assert they have now been targeted for deportation and are in danger of losing their homes and personal property in Vietnam.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt is presiding over the case.
Case No. 3:11-cv-00182