Couple sentenced in U.S. for enslaving niece from Morocco

A couple in the U.S. state of Washington has been sentenced to home confinement for forcing their immigrant niece to work long hours in their home and at the family espresso stand, and they also must pay her US$65,000 (about Ђ50,000) for her labor.

Abdenasser "Sammy" Ennassime, 47, and his wife Tonya, 41, of Lakewood, pleaded guilty in September to federal charges of forced labor and harboring an illegal alien, respectively. Under the plea agreement, government lawyers recommended home confinement, three years of probation and back wages.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Franklin D. Burgess sentenced Sammy Ennassime to six months of home confinement and his wife to 90 days.

In a letter to the court, Ennassime said he was stern with his niece "maybe too stern" but added, "She grew to be a responsible young woman and I was proud of her but I did not want her to become wild."

The girl, Lamia Ennassime, 18, attended the sentencing hearing and had asked the judge not to impose prison time.

She came from Morocco to stay with her aunt and uncle at age 12 in September 2001, with the understanding that she would help care for their young son and help with the housework in exchange for lodging and a chance for a good education. She made breakfast and dinner, did laundry, cleaned the house, and worked weekends and summers without pay at the espresso stand.

After her six-month visa expired, her uncle used her illegal status to threaten her, government lawyers said. He said that if she didn't work longer and harder, he would report her to immigration authorities.

According to the plea agreement, the family took a monthlong trip to Morocco and left the girl to run the espresso stand 14 hours a day, seven days a week, but even confiscated her tips, reports AP.

The girl escaped to a safe house in July 2005 with help from friends and an immigrant rights group.

Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, said the girl is doing well in high school and, as a victim of forced labor, can apply for permanent resident status.

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