Please note: all the names are changed in this story for security. Friends and family members who know names, please do not share them. Thank you.
I came down the stairs and awkwardly found a seat at the kitchen table. It was one of those family Christmas parties at my aunt and uncle's house... the kind where you get only 3 hours to make conversation with the people that you only see once a year. On my dad's side of the family, I have a ton of cousins, including 13 cross-culturally adopted cousins all from the same family. I usually spend the first 20 minutes of the Christmas party trying to pick out who is who, and the family is always growing, so when I saw two new Asian girls in the kitchen, I wasn't surprised at all. I opened my ears to their conversation to try to grab their names.
"You don't have to do that!" My Aunt Thabitha was doing all she could to wrestle the dirty dishes from the girls's hands, but they were adamant on washing them.
"Yes we do! We have to help!" one replied.
"They never stop cleaining," my cousin June chimed in. "And they always want to do our nails!"
"Your mom does everything for us! We have to help," the other girl replied.
My Aunt Elle, mother of the 13, slid down at the table next to my mom and I. She began whispering, and the expression on my mom's face subtly grew into complete shock. Noticing my bewilderment at the new additions to our family, Aunt Elle then turned to me, and filled me in on what was going on.
These two girls were Yeu and Dep and they were Vietnamese. They used to work in the nail salon my Aunt Elle frequented. Having travelled to Vietnam to adopt some of my cousins, my aunt knew a bit of the language, and got to know the two girls.
One day, they decided to take a leap of faith and trust my Aunt Elle with information that could have ended their lives. In Vietnam, they were offered great opportunity in America: good jobs, education, medical care, and every opportunity they would want, so they followed a man onto an airplane, trusting him with all of their paperwork. When they arrived in America, it was all a plot. They were enslaved, forced to work long hours in the nail salon, then clean the entire house. They were taken advantage of in many other ways.
Aunt Elle was the right person to trust. After several phone calls to the FBI, information-gathering manicures, and night raids to the York home, Yeu and Dep were now in my Aunt's kitchen. Human trafficking was so close, that I literally stumbled upon it.
So much for the land of the free...
Yeu and Dep's story:
Lynda Phan essentially enslaved two young women from Vietnam to work in her West Manchester Township nail salons for three years.
Three years of working long hours, often seven days a week, for no pay -- and under emotionally demoralizing circumstances as the former Fairview Township salon owner reportedly demeaned the women she greedily exploited.
On Thursday, she was sentenced in federal court on guilty pleas to human trafficking and other charges.
Three months in jail.
Three months for three years of forced labor.
It just doesn't add up.
A co-defendant in the case got off even easier: Duc Cao Nguyen must serve one year of probation.
Shouldn't the jail time for engaging in modern American slavery be at least equal to the amount of time the victims suffered?
Three years? Maybe six if you count each case separately and run the sentences consecutively?
Many people who commit nonviolent crimes get more time in jail than Lynda Phan will get for creating an emotional and mental prison for two young women who came to America -- granted, illegally -- to help their families by sending home money.
Yes, she also must serve house arrest for 270 days, bringing her loss of freedom closer to a year.
Yes, she must pay restitution to the victims.
Yes, she lost her home and other possessions.
Still, three months in jail followed by nine months of hanging around wherever she's living now doesn't seem like much retribution -- or deterrent to others who might consider exploiting young immigrants with American dreams and desperate families in their homelands.
At least these two young victims -- named A.V. and T.V. in court documents -- weren't forced to be sex slaves, as authorities have alleged in some other local human trafficking cases.
But the ordeal has left emotional scars for T.V., who said in court through a translator that "you treated me worse and worse" and "I was punished in many different ways... . You broke my heart and my spirit was broken little by little."
T.V. graciously forgave Ms. Phan, saying that "nothing good comes from hating a person or treating them harshly."
That's a nice sentiment -- and probably a healthy approach to life.
But with all due respect, true justice in this case demands that Ms. Phan be treated more "harshly."
Facts about the nail salon case:
Lynda Phan, Duc Cao Nguyen and Justin Phan were charged with conspiracy to commit forced labor trafficking, forced labor and marriage fraud for keeping two young Vietnamese nationals in a Fairview Township home and forcing them to work at an area nail salon under threat of being turned over to immigration services.
The result: All three pleaded guilty in October. Lynda Phan and Nguyen were sentenced Thursday in federal court -- Phan to 90 days in jail, 270 days house arrest and one year probation and Nguyen to one year of probation. Lynda Phan has paid $250,000 of $300,000 in court-ordered restitution. Justin Phan is scheduled for sentencing next month, and his plea agreement calls for one year of supervised probation.
Also of interest:
From York Daily Record/Sunday News files: In 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement uncovered a network of brothels along the East Coast, including two in York County, where women were kept as sex slaves. The network smuggled South Korean women into the U.S. and forced them to work in the parlors to pay off their transportation debts. The women were told that, if they left the business before paying off their debts, they would be turned over to police or immigration authorities, federal complaints stated.
6 miles for Yeu and Dep
337.97 miles to date.
G.Q., N.H., and S.O.
Yeu and Dep
Because He first loved me,