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Indian-American Couple Convicted of Immigration Document Confiscation and Forced Labor at Gas Station

NEW DELHI: A US court has sentenced an Indian-American couple to prison for coercing their cousin to work at their gas station and convenience store for more than three years. Harmanpreet Singh received a sentence of 135 months (11.25 years), while his wife, Kulbir Kaur, was sentenced to 87 months (7.25 years). The court also ordered them to pay the victim, Singh's cousin, $225,210.76 (approximately Rs 1.87 crores) in restitution.

The couple, who have since divorced, lured the victim to the United States under false pretenses of helping him get enrolled in school. According to evidence presented at the trial, Singh and Kaur enticed the victim, who was a minor at the time, to travel to the US from India in 2018 with false promises of assisting him in enrolling in school. Upon his arrival, they confiscated his immigration documents and forced him to work at Singh's store for over three years, from March 2018 to May 2021.

The victim was compelled to work between 12 and 17 hours a day, nearly every day, for minimal pay, performing tasks such as cleaning, cooking, stocking, and handling the cash register and store records. The court heard that the couple used various coercive means to force the victim to continue working, including confiscating his immigration documents, subjecting him to physical abuse, threats of force and other serious harm, and at times, degrading living conditions. 

The victim was often forced to sleep in the store's back office, had limited access to food, and was denied medical care and education. Surveillance equipment was used to monitor him, and he was refused requests to return to India, causing him to overstay his visa. The couple also forced the victim to marry Kaur and used that marriage to threaten to take the victim's family's properties or falsely report him to the police if he left. Singh physically assaulted the victim by pulling his hair, slapping, and kicking him when he requested his immigration documents back or tried to leave, and on three occasions, threatened him with a revolver for attempting to take a day off or leave.

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Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said, "The defendants exploited their relationship with the victim to lure him to the United States with false promises that they would help enroll him in school. The defendants confiscated the victim's immigration documents and subjected him to threats, physical force, and mental abuse to coerce him to work long hours for minimal pay. This sentence should send a strong message that such forced labor will not be tolerated in our communities."

The case highlights the severe consequences of human trafficking and forced labor, reinforcing the commitment of the Justice Department to prosecute such crimes and protect the rights of victims.

June 26, 2024 1:26 p.m. 497

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