A 43-year-old New Jersey woman faces up to 20 years in prison after a federal jury in Camden convicted her of enslaving a Sri Lankan woman for more than nine years.
Officials said Alia Imad Faleh Al-Hunaity, also known as Alia Al Qaternah, forced the victim to marry her so she could obtain legal residence and avoid deportation.
After a six-day trial before U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler, a jury on Thursday convicted Al-Hunaity of charges of forced labor, alien harboring for financial gain, and marriage fraud, prosecutors said.
“The defendant in this case treated the victim as a slave,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a statement. “Al-Hunaity kept the victim in this country illegally and hid her away, in order to force her to perform household work for Al-Hunaity without pay, privacy, or the ability to move about freely.”
According to prosecutors, Al-Hunaity, a naturalized citizen from Jordan, brought the victim to the United States from Sri Lanka in 2009 on a temporary visa to work as a domestic helper. Officials didn’t say how old the victim was.
The woman was never paid for cooking and cleaning the defendant’s homes in Woodland Park and Secaucus, and caring for her three children, prosecutors said. During that time, the victim was forced to sleep in public spaces in the homes, including the kitchens, and her contact with the outside world was limited.
After the victim’s visa expired, Al-Hunaity, who was divorced, forced the woman to marry her to obtain legal residence and avoid deportation, prosecutors said.
Robert Kovic, a lawyer for Al-Hunaity, told the New York Times that his client contested the charges.
“The evidence presented was nowhere near proving the government’s claims,” he said. The prosecutors’ claims were rejected “not only by Ms. Hunaity, but also by the alleged victim herself,” he said.