A federal jury last week convicted a Texas woman of illegally harboring undocumented Mexican women and forcing them to work as slaves in her home cleaning business for nearly a decade and a half. According to a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Olga Sandra Murra, 64, was found guilty of two counts of forced labor and two counts of "harboring an illegal alien."
Born in Mexico, Murra moved to the United States in 1997, bringing with her a woman identified only as "V.R." as she settled first in El Paso, and then Forth Worth, according to ICE. The following year, Murra arranged to have another woman, identified as I.G., transported into the U.S. She kept both women's identification documents.
Once in the country, both women were put to work by Murra, cleaning "three to four homes per day up to seven days per week," ICE said. They were also required to clean Murra's personal residence and cook her meals, despite being fed only bread and water themselves. They were not paid for their labor and were forced to turn over all money and earnings from their house cleaning to Murra. For a short time, Murra also provided I.G. with false ID papers, allowing her to take several service industry jobs alongside her home cleaning work.
Both I.G and V.R. slept on the bedroom floor of Murra's residence, but were occasionally forced to relocate to the garage, laundry room, or even the yard as punishment. They were not allowed to speak with anyone else and were even required to ask permission to use the restrooms.
Murra maintained control over the enslaved women with a combination of implied—and on at least one occasion, actual—violence, and religious conditioning. According to ICE:
Murra represented herself to the women as the voice of God on Earth, and required them to listen to religious recordings of Murra reading Bible verses and discussing their meaning while they cleaned homes. She caused both women to believe they would go to hell if they did not obey her.
She also threatened to call immigration officials, reportedly telling the women they would be killed "buried in a field with other illegal aliens."
According to data compiled by Polaris—an organization that works to track and end human trafficking and slave labor around the world—721 of the 5,544 cases of trafficking reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center involved labor trafficking, second only incidents of sex slavery for the year. Between 2007 and 2015, domestic work was the most frequently reported type of labor trafficking, with Mexico the country referenced most frequently in international cases.
Murra is scheduled to face sentencing in November. If given the maximum penalty for each charge, she could face 60 years in prison, and be forced to pay $1 million in fines.