In the Pacific Ocean, about three quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines, lies the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The islands are a territory of the United States, but U.S. labor laws don't apply to them. The result is that the islands are a haven for human traffickers and employers who exploit their workers, mostly poor women. Immigration laws don't apply to the islands either, turning them into a serious loophole in U.S. national security.
For over ten years, I have been trying to get Congress to pass legislation that would extend labor and immigration laws to the Marianas. It's unacceptable that women continue to be lured there from China and other developing countries with the promise of good jobs, only to find themselves forced to work in sweatshops or, worse, as prostitutes. The reports of rape and forced abortion on the island are real and horrifying.
Last year, it became clear that for years my efforts at reform had been thwarted by two men - Tom DeLay, the former House Majority Leader, and Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist. But DeLay's last day in Congress is this Friday, and Abramoff is heading to jail on June 29. With the two of them out of the way, there is a renewed opportunity to finally get some justice for workers in the Marianas and to close the glaring security loophole. That is why today I reintroduced legislation to apply U.S. labor and immigration laws to the Marianas. I am calling on the House Republican leadership [PDF] to act on the legislation quickly.
Today I also released a report prepared by the Justice Department in December 2001. The stinging report shows the security threat posed to the United States by the lax immigration rules that govern the Marianas. That report - like the immigration and labor reforms - was also suppressed by DeLay and Abramoff.
To this day, DeLay continues to defend his decision to deny workers in the Marianas some decent treatment and basic human dignity, and he continues to defend his decision to maintain a gap in U.S. security that makes all of us less safe. But thankfully, DeLay won't matter after Friday.