Putting An End to Human Trafficking

February 22, 2008

Last week in Vienna, Austria the UN. Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) held a conference to explore vulnerability, impact, and action concerning human trafficking and modern slavery. The background paper outlines the UN protocol from protection to prosecution. The UN.GIFT web site states:

"UN.GIFT was launched in March 2007 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) together with the International Labour Organization (ILO); the International Organization for Migration (IOM); the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The Global Initiative is based on a simple principle: human trafficking is a crime of such magnitude and atrocity that it cannot be dealt with successfully by any government alone.

This global problem requires a global, multi-stakeholder strategy that builds on national efforts throughout the world. To pave the way for this global strategy we must coordinate efforts already underway, increase knowledge, raise awareness and provide technical assistance; promote effective rights-based responses; utilize available resources and build capacity of state and non-state stakeholders; foster partnerships for joint action; and, above all, ensure everybody takes responsibility for this fight.

By encouraging and facilitating cooperation and coordination, UN.GIFT aims to create synergies among the anti-trafficking activities of UN agencies, international organizations and other stakeholders to develop the most efficient and cost-effective tools and best practices with which to combat human trafficking."

Today's Saipan Tribune reported that a Saipan nightclub operator, Wei Qin Sun, was sentenced to 41 months in prison by the Federal Court. The article states:

"Munson ordered Sun to immediately pay $9,529 in restitution to the victim plus $300 in special court assessment fee. After serving her prison term, the defendant will be placed on three years of supervised release and required to perform 500 hours of community service.After release, Sun will be turned over to Immigration authorities for deportation.

If released in the U.S. pending deportation proceedings, Munson said, the defendant will be required to register as a sex offender whereever she resides.

A federal jury had found Sun guilty of conspiracy to commit foreign transportation for prostitution, and foreign transportation of a person in execution of a fraud scheme; foreign transportation for prostitution; and foreign transportation of person in execution of fraud scheme.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O'Malley prosecuted the case. "

This case reads like the typical case involving trafficked women for the sex trade. It starts in the home country with recruitment fees and the promise of a legitimate job. It ends as a nightmare in the country where the woman is transported:

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation said that the Phoenix Karaoke, located on Saipan and owned by Phoenix Corp., was operating as a sex house using women who had been recruited from China on promises of legal jobs.

O'Malley stated in the indictment that beginning December 2005, Sun, together with some individuals, operated Phoenix Karaoke as an illegal commercial sex house.

O'Malley said that beginning the defendant perpetrated a scheme to defraud Lin Xiu Lan by asking her (Lan) to pay $4,500 in recruitment fees and other fees, in addition to other expenses totaling more than $5,000, in return for a job on Saipan.

The misrepresentations included a promise that Lan would be working as a waitress; that she would be employed by a company owned by the defendant; that she would earn at least $700 per month; and that her employment would be legal."

This case ended with the trafficker being punished. Good job by the Guam and Northern Marianas US Attorney's Office and Assistant US Attorney Eric O'Malley!

In the United States, the US Department of State oversees human trafficking policies. Their policy on rescuing victims states:

"Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, involving victims who are forced, defrauded, or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. While some victims of this crime are able to escape from involuntary servitude, many more are not able to break free on their own. They need help.
Help usually comes in the form of a raid on the place where victims are held against their will. Victims of involuntary servitude in a labor situation are rescued through raids on sweatshops, or searches of homes exploiting domestic servants, for example. Victims of sex trafficking are rescued through raids on brothels and other places where commercial sexual exploitation occurs, such as massage parlors, Karaoke bars, and strip clubs. Regardless of the type of rescue, the law enforcement operation--typically termed a "raid"--should be executed through legal means, under the proper authority, using warrants or other necessary court or police orders."

As far as underage girls the State Department says:

"U.S. Government policy on children (under the age of 18) used for commercial sex is unambiguous: They must be removed from exploitation as soon as they are found. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under both U.S. and international law. There can be no exceptions, no cultural or socio-economic rationalizations that prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude."

The roles of NGOs and human rights advocates are also outlined by the Department of State:

"NGOs often help law enforcement officers carry out raids and rescues. They can offer psycho-social counseling skills that help identify trafficking victims, usually after they are removed from trafficking situations.

NGOs and media representatives can also play a valuable role in holding law enforcement authorities to legal standards of crime prevention and victim care by bearing witness to, and demanding, accountability."

Important NGOs in the CNMI that fight human trafficking are affiliated with the Catholic Church - the Sisters of the Good Shepherds, Karidat, and Guma Esperansa. Bishop Thomas Augon Camacho has spoken out against human trafficking. Their work is recognized and applauded internationally. Some of the testimony of Lauri Ogumoro, director of Guma Esperansa, a CNMI shelter for victims of human trafficking, and the testimony of Kayleen, a young victim of human trafficking, that was given at the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in February 2007, can be read at Human Trafficking in the CNMI.

Sister Mary Stella Mangona also testified at the U.S. Senate Hearing on February 7, 2007. In part she said:

My name is Sr. Mary Stella Mangona. I was born in the Philippines and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1992. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with an M.A. in Psychology from the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. I also received training in Pastoral Counseling at Loyola University, Chicago. I have been employed since 1999 by the government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) as a mental health counselor with the Department of Public Health, Community Guidance Center. I am, however, attending these hearings of the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources not in my capacity as an employee of the CNMI government but in my role as a Catholic Religious Woman, as a delegate of His Excellency Bishop Tomas A. Camacho of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa. I am here primarily to offer support to other members of the Bishop’s delegation and to assist with translation from Tagalog, if necessary, for a victim of human trafficking who will be testifying before the Committee on February 8, 2007. I am also grateful for this opportunity to offer written observations particularly in regard to issues of labor and immigration in the CNMI.

I will try to describe the life situations of many of my clients without advocating particular solutions.
I have been a Sister of the Good Shepherd for more than 40 years, that is, a member of a Roman Catholic international order of religious women with ministries spanning 71 countries including the CNMI. Good Shepherd work throughout the world is directed by the Church’s teachings on Social Justice, with a special emphasis on advocacy for human rights and upholding the dignity of each individual. Our mission is especially to girls and women who are marginalized in society.

I have been living and working on Saipan since 1999, when my Provincial Superior encouraged me to move from Guam to follow up on rumors about female victims of human trafficking and to find out whether we could provide assistance or intervention. My position with the CNMI Community Guidance Center has enabled me to work closely with other service agencies like Karidat (the local equivalent of Catholic Charities), Division of Youth Services, Public School System, Probation Department and the Department of Corrections. At times I have been approached by the Bishop, by parishioners referred contract workers, and by non-resident workers themselves as they feel I can be trusted with sensitive information in my capacity as a Religious and a counselor.

My individual and family counseling sessions have been with both local population as well as other ethnic groups living in the CNMI. Outreach programs and educational presentations have touched on a large number of issues particularly domestic violence, human rights advocacy with non-resident workers, the rights and responsibilities of overseas workers (particularly to Filipino groups, given my background and ability to speak Tagalog), sexual abuse of children, depression and anxiety, and trauma recovery and empowerment for victims of human trafficking and sexual assault."

In her testimony Sister Stella I quote from Bishop Tomas A. Camacho’s Pastoral Letter on Human
Rights, issued on Saipan on May 1, 2006:

"Some may feel that desperate times justify desperate measures to bolster the economy or simply to provide for our families. We must avoid this temptation in the light of Catholic teaching on human rights and justice.

We must never exploit our fellow human beings nor sacrifice their rights on the altar of “prosperity. ” Indeed, Catholic social teaching emphasizes that no society can be considered truly prosperous if it neglects the needs of the poor and vulnerable. … If our community allows human rights abuses, they will continue to happen. If our community as a whole does not tolerate abusive activities, they will stop. "

Sister Stella concluded her testimony stating:

"I have shared my experiences to provide information and insight into the conditions of workers and families in the CNMI. The CNMI is a beautiful place with proud and ancient traditions for its residents and offering hope to those non-resident workers who continue to seek opportunities on these Islands, but our tarnished international reputation is like a deep wound with a small band-aid on it. Let us have the courage to earnestly seek healing. I believe the time has come for us, in the light of the gospel, “to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for the oppressed.”

May justice reign in the CNMI!

Another agency that works to end human trafficking and uphold social justice is the National Advocacy Center of the Good Shepherd, which is located in Washington, D.C. Sr. Carol McClenon testified at the July 19, 2007 Senate hearing. The following are excerpts from the Good Shepherd testimony:

"The Good Shepherd connection to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands began in 1999, when Sr. Mary Stella Mangona was sent by her Provincial Superior to investigate reports of human trafficking and determine if the Sisters could provide assistance or intervention. Sr. Stella continues to work in the CNMI with the Community Guidance Center providing counseling services to both the local and immigrant populations and conducting outreach and educational services related to domestic violence, human rights advocacy for non-resident workers, and trauma recovery and empowerment for victims of human trafficking and sexual assault. She submitted testimony related to her experience and concerns about labor abuses and trafficking for the committee’s oversight hearing on February 8, 2007.

Sr. Carol McClenon joined Sr. Stella in Saipan in 2003 to work at Karidat, a non-profit social services agency affiliated with the Catholic Church—the local equivalent of Catholic Charities. Sr. Carol worked at Guma’ Esperansa—House of Hope—with Lauri Ogumoro, who also testified before this committee in February.
Sr. Carol’s work was initially with women and children who had been affected by domestic violence and sexual assault, but beginning in 2005 also came to include work with victims of human trafficking into the CNMI. Since September 2005 until recently, Sr. Carol, at the request of Bishop Tomas A. Camacho of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, who had become aware of the growing number of incidents of trafficking coming to the attention of law enforcement and victim service providers, also served as a special liaison to the diocesan office on the topic of human rights in the Diocese, which encompasses all the islands in the CNMI. She worked closely with Sr. Stella Mangona, Lauri Ogumoro, and K.E. (a trafficking survivor), the delegation sent by Bishop Camacho, in their preparation for the committee hearing February on labor and immigration issues in the CNMI. Sr. Carol joined the National Advocacy Center staff in June 2007, but remains in close contact with the CNMI. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd remain committed to anti-trafficking work in the CNMI and have recently missioned Sr. Miriam Phan to Saipan to assist with victim services and translation.

Drawing from these connections, the National Advocacy Center offers this statement in general support of the proposed legislation, S. 1634, but with some reservation and suggestions for improvement. Knowing that the government of the CNMI opposes this legislation creates some difficulty for us as those we work with rely on some measure of government cooperation to assist the victims they serve. However, the continuing prevalence of human trafficking on the CNMI necessitates a stronger response than has yet been provided.

During the February 2007 testimony, the members of Bishop Camacho’s delegation (and Sr. Carol, as one of his consultants) did not take a position on the hotly-debated topic commonly known on the Islands as “Federalization.” They merely supplied information which had been requested about clients with whom we worked and for whom we advocated. At that time, delegation members still cherished some hope that the local government was truly interested in human rights and would make reforms for the purpose of creating a more just society and greatly reducing the incidents of human trafficking and labor law violations. This hope was based on experiences of collaboration with individuals in various government agencies who worked valiantly as investigators, prosecutors, and hearing officers trying to implement laws and reduce an old backlog of labor cases. Here we would particularly like to mention the assistance provided by Assistant Attorney Generals Kevin Lynch and Dorothy Hill, although there were also many others.

The National Advocacy Center and our contacts on the CNMI had hoped that following the hearing, higher-ranking members of the CNMI administration would use the occasion to explore the concerns about human trafficking being brought to their attention and to add credibility to their commitment to ongoing reform. Unfortunately, such has not been the case. The current CNMI administration continues to employ the term “alleged abuses” to imply that reports made by victim services providers and human rights advocates about the problem of trafficking in the CNMI are exaggerated, fabricated, or based on speculation. This is troubling, because such reports stem from documented cases which were mostly referred by local government agencies themselves, or by Federal agencies such as the F.B.I. and the Office of the Federal Ombudsman.

Over the past two years, 43 victims of human trafficking into the CNMI have been referred to Karidat, including 9 victims in the 5 months since the hearing in February. Attached to this statement is a spreadsheet providing more detailed information on these cases. The most recent case referred to Karidat in June may involve an additional 16 victims, possibly including one minor. To understand the extent and continuing prevalence of the problems, one need only compare Karidat’s current caseload with its own projections of the number of victims it would serve under the Department of Justice grant (to provide services to pre-certified victims of human trafficking) it applied for and received in December of 2006. In the grant application, Karidat projected it would serve 50 victims during the three-year grant period. However, since the grant began in December, Karidat has already served to 39 human trafficking victims—in just the first six months of the grant.

Unfortunately, in many of these cases investigations languish and victims are held in limbo. Rather than wait for government action, some victims have chosen to return to their home countries without restitution. Moreover, despite evidence of abuse, rumors abound that the victims are only making allegations in order to receive “T” visas (though many were not even aware of such visas when they sought assistance) and in some cases have delayed the certification of trafficking victims, which would provide them access to needed social services as they attempt to rebuild their lives.

Representative of these problems and the government’s unwillingness to investigate and take action against labor abuses is the story of three female immigrant workers previously employed by the now defunct Benny's Place in Garapan. Promised jobs as waitresses in the CNMI, upon arrival the women were forced to wear skimpy clothes, were subjected to touching by patrons and forced to perform lewd acts with customers. In addition, the women were often forced to clean the homes of their employers, were illegally confined to their barracks, and were not paid promised wages. The three women filed a labor complaint in May 2005, but it wasn’t until March of this year that their case was granted a hearing and they were identified as victims of human trafficking and referred to Karidat for assistance. While the employers were ordered by the Labor administrative hearing officer to pay back wages and damages to the victims, the criminal investigation also requested by the hearing office has yet to be acted upon by the Attorney General’s Office, despite evidence of additional labor violations by the same employers from a labor hearing earlier in March of this year.

...Understandably, the government of the CNMI wishes to rehabilitate its tarnished international reputation, but as Sr. Stella Mangona noted in her testimony, this desire has led to a defensive posture by the government, which downplays and refuses to address continuing problems. Quoting Sr. Stella, “[This] climate is not conducive for productive dialogue and search for systemic solutions to serious and ongoing problems.” The insistence of the government that it has identified and fixed all of its immigration problems in the face of continuing abuses unfortunately demonstrates the unwillingness of the current administration for true self-reform and perpetuates a corrupt system that prevents people of good will who are working to end abuses from realizing justice.

For these reasons and in solidarity with the victims of human trafficking and labor abuses, the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd believes that federal involvement has become necessary and supports the framework for reform outlined in S. 1634...

...Given the documented and continuing problems within the CNMI, the National Advocacy Center strongly believes that a new approach to immigration and labor regulation, grounded in the fundamental dignity of every person and respect for human rights, is necessary. We commend the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and its staff for their work to bring justice to the CNMI and Senators Akaka, Murkowski, Cantwell, and Inouye for the introduction of S. 1634. We hope that its passage will provide desperately needed change to the CNMI and create a responsive government system that will be proactive in addressing and preventing abuses."

The National Advocacy Center has posted a letter on their web site for individuals to modify and send to their legislators to help stop human trafficking in the CNMI. You can access the letter, edit it online, and send it to your legislators and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Members right from the web-site. Help to stop human trafficking in the CNMI by supporting federalization of immigration.

Photo by W.L. Doromal @2007