April 15. 2008
Wendy L. Doromal
Former Republican Representative Bob Schaffer is taking heat for his CNMI, Abramoff, Fitial, Tan, (A-Team) connections in Colorado where is is running for a seat in the US Senate. This week Talking Points Memo has a post and The Denver Post has a story on Schaffer's A-Team involvement complete with the "secret memo" between Ben Fitial, Willie Tan, Eloy Inos, and Abramoff. The memo outlined the lobbying strategy which included "impeaching" Stayman; preparing hearing questions and factual backup for the friendly Senators and Congressman; arranging junkets to the CNMI; and cutting funding for the pro-federalization Department of Interior.
Schaffer - A Friend of Fitial and the CNMI
Schaffer, a true foot soldier for the A-Team, followed the lobbyist's play book as outlined in the "secret memo." Schaffer and his wife visited the CNMI on one of the Abramoff junkets a month before the September 16, 1999 hearing. The timing was important as the memo noted:
"With the cancellation of the Young trip, it would be wise for the CNMI to host a group of Resources Committee members at some time prior to the hearings. Otherwise Miller will be the member of that committee most recently in the CNMI and this will place us at a distinct disadvantage."
Schaffer received campaign contributions from Fitial and Jerry Tan and in return he was a major public supporter of Fitial's bid for governor in 2001. He even took out a full page ad in the Saipan Tribune, the newspaper owned by Tan, boasting to be "Ben and Rita's friend." Read this post to learn about more political friends of Fitial.)
In return, Schaffer provided "bail out" money for the CNMI according to this October 5, 2001 Saipan Tribune story:
"Fitial said he learned from his friends in the US Congress that the CNMI will be receiving a substantial amount of financial assistance from certain departments in the federal government.
"I talked to my friend Cong. Bob Schaffer over the phone and he told me that this assistance will be coming very, very soon," said Fitial.
CNMI’s share of the bailout money is projected to be in the millions, he added."
Fitial and nine members of the CNMI House of Representatives made a trip to Washington in April 2001. This Saipan Tribune story discusses a meeting between Fitial and Schaffer in his Washington, DC. office:
Mr. Fitial said the meeting with Rep. Schaffer was very productive. We discussed the positive labor reform efforts that have occurred in the CNMI and the need for better educational opportunities for CNMI citizens, especially our youth.
Representative Schaffer also agreed to introduce legislation granting the CNMI representation in the US Congress, a privilege I have been aggressive seeking for our citizens for many years.
While on his trip to Washington, former Speaker Fitial and nine other members of the CNMI House of Representatives also met with other key members of the Abramoff-Fitial-Tan team including former Speaker Dennis Hastert, former Majority Whip Tom DeLay, John Doolittle (R-CA), Don Young (R-Alaska), and Rep. Ralph Hall (D-TX) according to an April 17, 2000 Saipan Tribune article. The article said:
"For Mr. Fitial, the trip offered him two strong impressions -- one, that the island can count on a lot of friends in Congress; and two, that CNMI must act now to maintain the control granted under the Covenant."
Still another Saipan Tribune story relates the main purpose of the trip was to defeat federal immigration legislation by reaching out to Republican members of the House Resources Committee:
"Federal takeover of the CNMI has been a battle between the Republicans and Democrats, and often undercut by labor unions opposed to the garment manufacturing industry here, since President Clinton pushed for measures that will strip local control over its own immigration, minimum wage and customs."
What garment factories did Schaffer tour?
Schaffer claimed to have visited 20 factories on his trip to Saipan according this Denver Post article:
"Bob Schaffer, accompanied by his wife, said he visited more than 20 textile factories during the trip to investigate claims of labor violations and found problems in only one. He also described the protectorate's guest-worker rules as a "model" for the U.S. immigration system."
Twenty factories? Really? It would be logistically impossible to visit 20 garment factories considering that he was on the island for four days, and went para-sailing, attended meetings including those with Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association and the Western Pacific Economic Council, and visited historical sites according to the Denver Post article.
He was quoted in this Post article as saying:
"There were some examples of problems that we found, and we raised those with the equivalent of the attorney general," Schaffer said of his visit. But in many others, "the workers were smiling; they were happy."
Other statements from former Saipan garment workers who were truly not "happy" were submitted with the 1998 report. As a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, Mr. Schaffer had access to these. Here are some excerpts from their statements:
"She reports that the workers were treated like machines.
They were given one gallon of water for personal use a day during the wet season. During the dry season they were given some, but not enough drinking water on the factory floor, none was provided in our barracks.
The workers were denied work breaks and given only a limited time to go to the bathroom and they were not allowed to talk among themselves.
When she arrived in Saipan, she was initially housed with her co-workers in a "container" which was not air-conditioned.
They were not allowed to obtain medical treatment outside the factory.
Workers were prohibited by their contracts from attending religious services so we didn't go."
Schaffer also had access to the report by Global Survival Network, a March 1998 report by Congressman George Miller, and US Department of Labor lawsuits which detailed similar experiences.
Shaffer rejects incidences of coerced abortion
One controversial topic the A-Team wanted to suppress was that there were incidences of Chinese garment workers coerced to return to China to have an abortion if they became pregnant, or coerced to have one in a Chinese clinic on Saipan. In an April 11, 2008, Rocky Mounatin News article, Bob Schaffer claims he talked to the Bishop and others and no one knew of coerced abortion:
"Schaffer said he discussed that issue with the Catholic bishop and other Catholic leaders."
"None of them could confirm any examples or episodes of this," he said.
Perhaps he should have read the 1998 report and the hundreds of attachments which contained a statement by a woman who was told she must have an abortion. Her story was told in the Philadelphia Inquirer on February 8, 1998. The article reads:
"She fell in love with a Chinese laborer and became pregnant. When her factory found out Tu said, it pressured her to go back to China to have an abortion. She said a supervisor summoned her four times to deliver the same message.
"She didn't say you must go back to China to have an abortion," Tu said, "but she always said, "think about it."
...Tu refused to have an abortion and was fired after missing several days of work because of pregnancy-related illness. Her boss at the factory owned by mainland Chinese and Hong Kong investors told her not to come back she said."
Also, in the report are statements and documentation from investigators who uncovered clinics on Saipan that performed abortions in 1998. One investigator interviewed a former Chinese factory worker about working conditions in the factories. The worker confirmed that pregnant Chinese workers were told to have an abortion. From her statement:
"According to Miss Y, if the company found out a worker became pregnant they would fire her and return her to China where she would be "forced to have an abortion." Knowing this, workers who became pregnant either tried to self abort or fond someone in Saipan to perform the abortion. Some women ran away and hid so they didn't have to have an abortion."
Of course, Schaffer could not admit that there may be evidence of coerced abortion. That was not in the game plan. One of the key players at the 1998 Senate Hearing was the Traditional Values Coalition, an organization said to be tied into the Abramoff web. In fact, it was the Traditional Values Coalition who funded the $13,000 trip that Schaffer and his wife took to the CNMI in 1999. Executive Director, Andrea Sheldon Rafferty was also an Abramoff foot soldier and took a junket to the CNMI.
Andrea Sheldon appeared outside the hearing room in 1998. She was distributing a handbill calling the hearing a "sham" because their prepared witnesses who wanted to refute the documented incidences of coerced abortions and religious persecution were not asked to testify. I watched her confront one witness, Eric Gregoire who testified that as the former human rights advocate for the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa.
She yelled at him, "Why didn't you tell me about forced abortions when I was in Saipan?"
Former Chinese garment worker, Sui Jian Wei also testified that day concerning coerced abortions. From his testimony:
"I see Chinese workers have to get an abortion. I know Chinese doctors who do the abortions."
The CNMI government claimed that abortions could not take place in the CNMI because abortion is illegal. A May 10, 2000 Saipan Tribune article states:
Under the Constitution, abortion is prohibited. The Legislature, however, can lift that ban. At present, there is no local statutory law that penalizes such practices here.
Abortion has become a thorny issue in the CNMI following allegations leveled by the federal government that it allows forced abortions here, particularly among the nonresident workers coming from the People’s Republic of China.
It also has been one of the reasons used by the Clinton administration to justify attempts to extend federal immigration and labor laws to the island. Local leaders have repeatedly denied these accusations.
Loyal A-Team member Bob Schaffer still follows their line.
Schaffer used a victim of human rights abuses to go after Mr. Stayman and the DOI
It was Schaffer's role and behavior in the September 16, 1999 House Hearing that demonstrated his obedience to the game plan outlined in the Abramoff memo. Part of that plan was to attack Allen Stayman who was the Deputy Secretary of Insular Affairs for the Department of Interior. Schaffer's most insidious act was the badgering of a hearing witness, former CNMI guest worker, Nousher Jahedi.
I first met Nousher in January 1998 when I was hired by the Clinton Administration's Department of Interior to lead a seven-member team of human rights advocates and attorneys to investigate and document the current status of the foreign contract workers in the CNMI. After video-taping and interviewing over 400 guest workers, including Nousher, a report, entitled CNMI Labor and Human Rights Abuse Status Report, was issued. The report had hundreds of pages of attachments which included police complaints, labor cases, workers' testimonies, statistical data, video footage, audio tapes, and newspaper articles. It was given to key members of Congress, cabinet members, members of the House Natural Resource Committee and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Former Rep. Bob Schaffer must have seen that report because he was a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources.
In January 1998, Nousher was living in a ramshackle house with 25 other Bangladeshi guest workers. They crammed into the small rooms and shared a tiny bathroom. Their kitchen consisted of a tiny refrigerator and a two burner hot plate. They had running water only in the small bathroom. I was struck by Nousher's intelligence and gentleness. He assisted me with interviews and helped to connect me to others to document their stories. I have over one hour of video interviews and one box of documents just from interviewing Nousher and those living in his house.
In 1996 Nousher and 11 other Bangladeshis paid a Bangladeshi broker, M.A. Gafur Miah $7,000 to be commercial cleaners in "United States of America." Miah and his partner, CNMI resident Margie Tudela, of The Pyramid Enterprises ran the recruitment scheme issuing fraudulent CNMI entry and work permits.
Nousher and other victims of the scam were issued entry permits, and were told they would enter the United States via the Philippines. Recruiter Margie Tudela, a Filipina, kept them in Laguna Philippines for four months where they were virtual slaves. They were told that the entry permits for them to enter the CNMI were fake, and she needed to exchange them for valid ones with her friends who worked in the CNMI Department of Immigration. Ramon O. Llamzon, a friend of Tudela, filled out an affidavit of support to keep the men in the Philippines "working" under Tudela's sponsorship.
Finally, on October 19, 1996, Nousher and the other Bangladeshi men were flown to Saipan where they learned that there was no job for them. They were told they must pay an additional $29,000 to secure work. None of them had the money. A few of the men were given work for 8 days in November. That was it - eight days of work in exchange for a $7,000 recruitment fee. To pay for the recruitment fees, some of the victims had sold their land, some sold family jewels, and most took out high interest loans. All were deeply in debt and were afraid to return to their homelands where their owed money that they could never repay. Between 1992 and 1999 dozens of illegal recruiters raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars, bilking hundreds of innocent Asians looking for work and seeking the American dream. Nousher was one of many.
In a Saipan video interview in February 1998, I asked Nousher why he accepted the job. He explained that he had worked in Saudi Arabia on a US Air Force base, and had excellent employers and good pay. So when the recruiter told him that Saipan was in the United States - just a train-ride away from Los Angeles, he jumped at the chance to work on U.S. soil. He was shocked when the plane was going to land on the small island. He realized at that moment that he had been scammed. You can hear Nousher briefly describe his ordeal in an NPR interview from 2006.
In 1999, I was contacted by Melanie Orhant and Steve Glaster of the Washington, D.C. based non-profit organization, Global Survival Network. They were interested in writing a report and producing a video about the status of the CNMI guest workers, saying that they would educate the grass roots, and help end the abuses. I copied hundreds of documents for them, sent them video footage from 1992 - 1998 containing guest worker interviews, and put them in contact with key guest worker leaders who could help them with their investigation. One of those guest workers was Nousher who had become very close to me and my family.
The Global Survival Network, for the most part, retraced the path that we had laid in the 1998 investigative trip, wrote a report which reinforced what had been written in the 1998 report, and made a video similar to the one I had made previously. Their findings matched those of the 1998 investigative team and served as an updated reconfirmation of our investigation and report.
The Global Survival Network brought Nousher to Washington, D.C. to testify at the September 16, 1999 House Committee Hearing. At around 12:30am on the morning of the hearing, I was awakened by a call from Nousher. He was very concerned that Congressman Bob Schaffer had called him earlier that evening to quiz him about how he got to Washington, DC, what kind of visa he had, what he was doing in the states, who helped him write his testimony and similar questions. I thought it was very unusual that a U.S. Congressman would call a witness before a hearing. I had never heard of this before.
The September 16, 1999 hearing was a total mockery of justice. I planned on going, but canceled my flight because a hurricane was set to hit the East Coast. Nousher told me he was drilled relentlessly by Schaffer with questions about federal officials, Department of Interior officials, who paid for protests conducted by guest workers in Saipan. The transcript of the hearing reveals that House Resources Committee Chair Don Young, and members Bob Schaffer and John Doolittle turned the hearing upside down by following the memo's strategy of going after Mr. Stayman and other DOI officials, while ignoring the purpose of the hearing.
Clearly, Schaffer was given the questions to ask the witnesses by members of the A-Team. He did not question Nousher about the condition of the workers. He questioned him about his participation in a February 1999 rally organized to get the attention of visiting House Resources Committee Chair, Don Young (R-Alaska). Schaffer suggested that DOI officials gave the workers $1,200 for placards, cars and supplies.
Here is a selection of some questions Schaffer asked Nousher (nicknamed Toppen):
Mr. Schaffer. Thank you. Now let me ask, when Chairman Don Young was in Saipan.
Mr. Jahedi. Yes, sir. Mr. Schaffer. As I understand, you were at a rally there?
Mr. Jahedi. Yes, sir, I was. I was with the workers.
Mr. Schaffer. Right. How did you learn about the rally?
Mr. Jahedi. Sorry,
Mr. Schaffer. How did you learn that the rally was going to take place?
Mr. Jahedi. We know that Mr.--I read it from the newspaper that Mr. Don Young and other members of the Committee is going to have a plan to visit the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island. And, by that time, before Mr. Young came out there----
Mr. Schaffer. Right. Can you tell me about the car you borrowed to drive to that rally? Who did you borrow the car from?
Mr. Jahedi. My friend, sir.
Mr. Schaffer. Your friend? That same friend tells me you accepted $1,200 to help round up other friends for food, gas, and for the vehicle, to help find other Bangladeshis to go to the rally. Is that true?
Mr. Jahedi. No, sir.
Mr. Schaffer. Did you receive any money or compensation at all for attending that rally and rounding up friends?
Mr. Jahedi. No, sir. No, sir.
Mr. Schaffer. None at all?
Mr. Jahedi. No.
Mr. Schaffer. Do you know any others who did?
Mr. Jahedi. No, sir. I don't know about that.
Mr. Schaffer. On my visit to Saipan just two weeks ago.
Mr. Jahedi. Yes, sir.
Mr. Schaffer. I heard from two separate individuals that you received $1,200 from a Federal official, frankly, to attend that rally. And that you used it to help pay for food and gas and so on. Is that incorrect or is it correct?
Mr. Jahedi. No, sir. It's not correct.
Mr. Schaffer. Okay.
Mr. Jahedi. It's not correct.
Mr. Schaffer. Do you know any others who received money to attend that rally from any Federal officials?
Mr. Jahedi. No, sir.
Mr. Schaffer. None at all?
Mr. Jahedi. No, sir.
Mr. Schaffer. Let me--how about the signs that were used at the rally. Did you make those signs?
Mr. Jahedi. Not only me, sir.
Mr. Schaffer. Now where did they come from?
Mr. Jahedi. Sir, we made the banner, sir, and the placards. The placards, sir?
Mr. Schaffer. The chairman would ask--like me to stop asking questions. Okay. Yes, the signs. The signs you were holding.
Mr. Jahedi. Yes, we hold it. We make it on the boat, you know, the cartons. We use the cartons.
Mr. Schaffer. And where did those materials come from?
Mr. Jahedi. We grab it from the street some and we buy from the Joeten some, though, not all though, everything, only the color:few. Like the six pages that we buy from the Joten. The colored one.
Mr. Schaffer. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Schaffer later continued his questioning, not with relevant questions about Nousher's testimony or knowledge of conditions on the island, but with questions concentrating on whether DOI officials gave Nousher money:
Mr. Schaffer. Now, Toppen, can I ask you a couple more questions? Do you know Jeff Shore?
Mr. Jahedi. Sorry, sir?
Mr. Schaffer. Do you know Jeff Shore?
Mr. Jahedi. Yes, he's working in the Department of Interior Saipan, sir.
Mr. Schaffer. Right. Has Jeff Shore ever given you any amount of money for any reason?
Mr. Jahedi. No, sir. No, sir.
Mr. Schaffer. No. And has Alan Stamen ever given you any amount of money for any reason?
Mr. Jahedi. No, sir. No.
Mr. Schaffer. Did Jeff Shore or anyone else ever ask you to help in getting people together for demonstrations or protests?
Mr. Jahedi. No, sir.
Mr. Schaffer. No? Did Jeff Shore or anyone else ever ask you for help in getting cars to round up people?
Mr. Jahedi. Excuse me, sir?
Mr. Schaffer. Getting cars to round up Bangladeshis?
Mr. Jahedi. No, sir.
It was not DOI officials who helped to organize or fund the rally that Schaffer quizzed Nousher about. After we returned from the CNMI in 1998, we saw a great need to unify the workers. We had interviewed Filipinos, Chinese, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Indians, Pakastani and other guest workers. All shared similar problems with illegal recruitment, payless paydays, and denial of due process; many were victims of hate crimes and criminal acts. Yet, the groups were isolated by nationality and language. We felt that there was power in numbers and strength in being united, so we proposed the idea for a United Worker Alliance to the leaders of each group we had met. They embraced the idea. We helped initially by connecting them through telephone numbers and addresses, and soon the group was established.
When we learned that Don Young and some others would be visiting Saipan on yet another junket, I sent a letter to the committee chair requesting that he meet with the workers during his visit. I attached a letter from the workers. As always, he did not respond.
We also helped the United Workers Alliance to organize the demonstration. The congressmen who accepted the junkets continually said they saw no abuses or problems. With a demonstration they could not deny seeing or hearing the protesters. It was my husband, myself, Dr. Eddie del Rosario, a human rights advocate located on Guam, and Phil Kaplan, former human rights advocate for the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa who funded the protest when Don Young's junket arrived in February 18, 1999. Dr. Eddie even joined the demonstration to support the workers.
I have separated Nousher's testimony from the entire transcript. It detailed his story of his experiences and suffering at the hands of his illegal recruiter both in the Philippines and in the CNMI. Congressman George Miller(D-CA) stopped the ridiculous line of questions, and acknowledged the plight of the guest workers and the conditions in the CNMI.
Schaffer did not ask Nousher about labor and human rights abuses, corruption at the CNMI Department of Labor and Immigration headed by Zachares, or about the numerous other worker concerns. These are all issues that Schaffer and every House Resources Committee member should have known about because I had sent them a copy of a letter from the Bangladeshi guest workers. In that letter the workers spoke of illegal raids on workers' private homes being conducted by Zachares's employees:
"These raids, although characterized in the news as raids of work places employing illegal aliens, are usually raids on homes of workers -not barracks. These raids are not to arrest illegals, but anyone whom the officials decide to arrest, even those with legitimate labor complaints or legitimate employment status."
They also received numerous letters from me including a copy of a letter I wrote to Governor Pedro Tenorio outlining serious concerns of the guest workers including problems with the Department of Labor and Immigration. That letter outlined concerns the guest workers had alerted me to including illegal deportations and arrests, Department of Labor and Immigration refusal to give temporary work authorizations to employees with valid labor cases, Muslims being served pork in the detention center, workers in the Detention center being denied of their due process and constitutional rights, an increase in unprovoked acts of hate crimes and violence, and a deceased Bangladeshi left in the morgue for months.
CNMI Department of Labor and Immigration Director, Mark Zachares , who was indicted last year for his involvement in the Abramoff scandal, also testified at that 1999 hearing. By then he was already a key member of the A-Team. A few days after the hearing, Sumon, Nousher's former roommate, called in a panic with news that immigration officials from Zachares's office had been searching for him to question him about Nousher and how he got to Washington, D.C., who paid for his trip etc. In the call he revealed that several guest workers had given Schaffer incorrect information. One of those people worked at the CNMI Department of Immigration according to Sumon. Was Zachares using his employees to get information for the Republican committee members and congressional leadership? Were these the two employees Schaffer was referring to in this statement made to the Denver Post?:
He [Schaffer] said in an interview Saturday that the issue of "illegal activity" by OIA staff was brought up by several island lawmakers and that they introduced him to the two workers who said Nousher had taken money. Any time spent looking into the activities of the OIA was "incidental" to the overall purpose of the trip."
An April 12, 2008, Denver Post story reported:
"Schaffer met with Zachares, the islands' secretary of labor and immigration, during his tour, according to a draft copy of his agenda. (Schaffer said he couldn't remember whether he had met Zachares on the visit.)"
I sent some concerns I had about Schaffer calling a witness before a hearing, the hearing itself, and the CNMI immigration officers to a federal official in this email. The email also mentions the two men that Sumon and Nousher believed had given incorrect information to Schaffer.
Considering his involvement with Abramoff, Zachares, and members of the A-Team who are currently being investigated, it is surprising that Schaffer would come out with the controversial remark that Schaffer made to the Denver Post:
In a recent interview with The Denver Post, the Republican candidate for Colorado's open Senate seat described the protectorate's guest-worker program as a "model" lawmakers could use as they overhaul the U.S. immigration system.
One would think Schaffer would have kept that controversy under wraps while running for the US Senate seat. Perhaps he put that remark out intentionally. Maybe he is still a foot soldier for the A-Team, at least for Governor Fitial. Perhaps the governor, or one of his consultants called upon his old friend to make such a statement hoping to influence the Senate vote last week on S. 2739 which would apply federal immigration laws to the CNMI. The timing sure aligns. If it was a tactic to highlight the CNMI immigration system as one that is better than a federal system in an attempt to try to block the bill, it failed. The bill passed the Senate April 10, 2008.
Whatever his motivation, Shaffer needs to own up to his role as an A-Team foot soldier. We need Senators in Washington who have integrity, character, and a moral conscience. Shaffer does not fit that bill.
April 15. 2008