RETALIATION SEEN IN MARSHALLS IMMIGRATION ARREST

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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 12) – A Marshall Islands Immigration official acting without the knowledge or approval of his higher ups is being investigated for arresting a Fiji citizen who has been working in the Marshall Islands legally since 2005.

Majuro Motors manager Anoop Kumar on Friday said he lodged a complaint with the Attorney General’s office and Immigration over the arrest of one of his workers, and said in an interview that the arrest sends the wrong message to businesses and potential investors.

"We’re conducting an internal investigation on it," Attorney General Posesi Bloomfield said in an interview. Bloomfield, who oversees the Immigration Department, acknowledged that the alien worker was "put in jail without the approval of his director" and without Bloomfield’s knowledge. "If we find (the action) was malicious, he will be disciplined."

Kumar suspects that the arrest of one of his employees was personal retaliation by the Immigration official for Majuro Motors winning a court judgment forcing him to pay a US$900 debt for car repairs. Kumar’s attorney confirmed that he had successfully filed suit against the Immigration officer and recently obtained payment on the debt.

Kumar said he was angered by the arrest because his worker has been legally working in the Marshall Islands since 2005. "I’ve asked the Labor Department more than four times since the beginning of 2007 that we want to register our employees and get their work permits and entry permits fixed as employees are unable to get health cards and health benefits," Kumar said.

"But I was told to wait until May, and now we are asked to wait until July."

In the Marshall Islands, Immigration does not issue entry permits to alien workers until the Labor Department first issues a work permit. But because of complaints from the Marshall Islands Chamber of Commerce, the government earlier this year put on hold the implementation of a new labor law, halting the issuance of labor permits.

Kumar said that Labor Department officials advised him that Immigration "is fully aware" of the situation with the hold up on Labor permits. "So why is Immigration arresting my worker?" he asked.

Bloomfield said the immigration law gives broad authority to Immigration officers to detain or arrest aliens who are uncooperative or don’t provide their entry permits when asked. "That’s why we need responsible people to implement the law," Bloomfield said.

In the situation that occurred this week, the Immigration officer took the Majuro Motors’ employee to his house to get his passport, and then took him to Majuro jail, where he was held most of the day.

Kumar spent a day on the phone to Bloomfield, Immigration chief Tarry Paul, Labor office officials and police Commissioner George Lanwi trying to get his employee sprung from Majuro jail. He was finally released around 5 p.m.

"This a serious issue for Majuro Motors reputation on alien workers and future hiring from overseas," Kumar said.

He said the government is sending the wrong message to businesses by this action.

"Here the government is hosting conferences with Pacific islands Ministers of Agriculture and other dignitaries, and on various other issues including trade, and closer ties with Pacific islands nations." A main focus is on good governance, promoting foreign investment and economic development, he said. But "on the other hand, Marshall Islands Immigration is treating foreign nationals of the same South Pacific islands with cruel behavior. As a Fiji citizen and a permanent resident of Australia myself, I want to ask, is this behavior really necessary?

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