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OpinionColumnistsLiza Featherstone

U.S. right to press case against Indian diplomat

An Indian diplomat was indicted Thursday on charges of visa fraud and making false statement charges. Since her arrest last month, when she was accused of not paying her housekeeper the federal minimum wage and lying about it on her visa application, Devyani Khobragade had been outraged that she had been treated like a common criminal despite her assertions of diplomatic immunity.

The Indian government has shared her outrage, and had tried to pressure the U.S. government to drop the case. Tension between the United States and India over the arrest led to the cancellation of U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz's trip to India next week.

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, did not back down from his case against Khobragade, India's deputy consul general, who left the United States Thursday.

The high-profile case may lead to more aggressive crackdowns on similar violations that have been detailed in federal reports. And that's a good thing.

A 2008 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that such abuses were more common than a review of past cases could show because the obstacles for workers trying to pursue justice were so formidable, including the diplomatic immunity of their employers.

Some employees have been forbidden to leave employers' homes or make private phone calls, or have not been paid a legal wage, according to Diplopundit, a blog that covers diplomatic life.

Some of India's outrage stems from Khobragade being stripped-searched. I doubt that was necessary.

Still, her case is another example of the outrageous idea that any group of people could be "immune" from the law.

Whatever the disposition of the case against Khobragade, who lived in the Upper East Side, the situation has pulled back the curtain on the politics and power of diplomacy and the sensitivity of these cases.

While Bharara prosecutes this case, he may want to look at our own homegrown elites, and go after American corporations not abiding by wage, job safety and equal opportunity employment regulations.

Then we'd know for sure our government is serious about workers' rights.

Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.


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