Two live-in nannies who were rescued from the homes of their employers last year by an immigrant advocacy group have taken leading roles in pushing for more protection for domestic workers.

Alexandra Santacruz and Germania Velasco were rescued after complaining that they had been exploited by their employers. Both women worked in Falls Church for officials of Ecuador's mission to the Organization of American States.

Santacruz worked 80-hour weeks -- cooking, cleaning and baby-sitting -- and was paid little more than $2 an hour, according to her attorney, Victor Glasberg, who sought back wages for the women. Velasco, who said she was forced to sleep in the laundry room, had a contract that promised her $6 an hour, but she, too, was paid about $2 an hour.

Their employers denied mistreating the workers. Shortly after her rescue, Santacruz reached "a satisfactory agreement" with her employer, Glasberg said, but Velasco was unable to do so. Velasco's employer returned to Ecuador, and efforts to negotiate a settlement with Ecuadoran officials were not successful, said Steve Smitson, a staff lawyer for Casa of Maryland, the Silver Spring-based advocacy group that helped the nannies.

The women became involved in local efforts to secure more rights for domestic workers and immigrant communities, and last December, they received an award from Casa recognizing their work.

This year, Velasco testified before the Montgomery County Council to request legislation that would establish a "living wage" for domestic workers of at least $10.50 an hour and mandate the right to a written contract, sick leave and vacation.

Every year, thousands of women are recruited from poor countries to be live-in domestic help, law enforcement officials and advocacy groups say. Washington is a major destination, given its large immigrant population and because it is home to diplomats and foreign officials of international organizations, who are allowed to bring with them domestic workers on special visas.

-- Lena H. Sun

Germania Velasco, left, and Alexandra Santacruz, nannies for foreign officials, celebrate after being removed from their employers' homes.