Foreign workers on a U.S. island territory are suffering from women’s rights and human rights abuses, according to a report by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Undercover agents interviewed more than 400 workers in the U.S. territory, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), made up of islands between Hawaii and the Philippines.
Workers from foreign countries are lured to the CNMI with promises of high paying jobs on U.S. land to work as “foreign guest workers.” The close to 37,000 registered workers, are frequently brought into the territory by “recruitment scams.” They pay thousands of dollars to attain jobs that pay less than they were promised or do not exist. U.S. human rights advocates and officials have said that the system benefits foreign garment manufacturers, brothel owners and other employers.
The report included accounts of rampant trafficking of minors from the Philippines and China for forced prostitution, and of the importation of more than 100 Russian women for work in brothels.
Several foreign women garment workers stated that their employers ordered them to have abortions or face losing their jobs. Investigators concluded that garment manufacturers force abortions because they do not want to be liable for the extra cost of lost productivity during pregnancy and childbirth.
Despite his strong anti-abortion views, House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-Tex.) has continued to express his support for the garment industry’s importation of foreign workers. According to a Washington Post article, Delay praised the “system” as one of the “leading lights of free market success,” and “said he favors creating a similar guest worker program for Mexicans in the United States, with no minimum wages.”
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who recently visited the CNMI, is calling on Attorney General Janet Reno to take action against the “foreign guest workers system,” because it “violates federal law by holding deeply indebted workers in various forms of indenture.”
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit, Rep. Miller, and four workers from the island will testify at a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing this Tuesday that will consider a proposal to impose federal immigration and minimum-wage laws in the territory.