CNMI LEGISLATORS WANT PROOF ABOUT FOREIGN WORKER ABUSE CHARGES

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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (May 27, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---Northern Marianas lawmakers yesterday shrugged off the latest attack against the Commonwealth after a human rights group accused the island of human trafficking and abuse of its foreign workers.

They also defended U.S. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) from criticism of "improperly" using his position to stall legislation that will impose federal takeover of labor and immigrations laws in the CNMI.

"I feel that DeLay is just doing what is necessary to address the CNMI position against any federal takeover that has been overlooked otherwise," said House Majority Floor Leader Ana S. Teregeyo.

She, however, did not express surprise over the charges made by Global Survival Network of rampant criminal activities on the island involving Chinese and Japanese nationals, such as human trafficking, sexual slavery and exploitation of garment workers.

"We have other more pressing issues to focus on," she said, noting the Commonwealth needs to deal with the problems brought about by the nearly 500 illegal Chinese immigrants on Tinian whom the federal government has sent to a temporary shelter on the island as well as the reimbursement of the costs they entail.

According to the representative, the latest accusations leveled against the island government have relied largely on information that does not present both sides of the story.

She maintained these people have not visited the islands to find out for themselves the problems confronting local officials. "If you want negative stories, you will look for people who have negative views to say," Teregeyo explained. "If you want to know the real score, you'll look at both sides."

The report made by the Washington-based human rights group is the latest in a series of allegations leveled by various activists on the mainland against the Commonwealth government, focusing mainly on the thousands of Asian workers employed on the island and the $1 billion local garment industry.

Likewise, it has prompted Rep. George Miller (D-California), a staunch critic of the CNMI, again to press legislation seeking to apply U.S. laws in place of local immigration, minimum wage and customs standards.

The CNMI has been fighting attempts to federalize these Commonwealth functions, saying it would mean economic disaster for the islands whose main tourism business is heavily battered by the prolonged financial crisis in Asia from where the major haul of visitors originate.

In a separate interview, the chair of the House Commerce and Tourism Committee challenged the Global Survival Network to produce proof to support their allegations.

"I would contest those allegations that the people in the CNMI are involved in human trafficking, sexual slavery and other charges," said Rep. Oscar M. Babauta, adding the local government in recent months has tightened watch on its immigration system.

"I am sick and tired of all of this propaganda which will only undermine the efforts of the CNMI to continue these reform measures," he explained. "The government is ready to testify to answer all these allegations."

CNMI GOVERNOR TENORIO CALLS FOR CRACKDOWN ON PROSTITUTION

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (May 27, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio yesterday issued fresh calls to police and immigration authorities to clamp down on the illegal flesh trade amid reports that prostitutes are back in the main tourist district of Garapan.

Residents and businessmen in Garapan have expressed concern over the growing presence of prostitutes, which they say tarnishes the image of the area as a wholesome entertainment destination for visitors.

"We don't tolerate the existence of prostitution," Tenorio told reporters. "We want to see this discontinued."

Last year the island government put in place measures to curb prostitution as part of a CNMI-wide campaign to rid the islands of prostitution. A law was implemented imposing fines and jail terms on violators.

According to the CNMI leader, he has asked the Departments of Public Safety and the Labor and Immigration to step up patrol and monitoring in Garapan to rid the island's of the flesh trade.

The presence of prostitutes in the CNMI has been criticized in media reports on the mainland. It has been alleged that an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 women, mostly Chinese and Filipinos, are being smuggled into the United States and its territories, including the Northern Marianas, every year.

Press reports say these women, including Russians and Latvians, are brought illegally to work as prostitutes in brothels.

"We are working closely with the federal and local agencies to address the problem," the Governor said.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT

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