A week after disclosures that "body brokers" were collecting up to $5,500 for each Pacific islander they deliver under contract to American nursing homes and amusement parks, officials of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands say they are investigating the situation and are eager to work with the U.S. government to stamp out abuses.
Leo A. Falcam, president of the
Federated States of Micronesia, has appointed special
representatives, including Justice Secretary Paul McIlreath, to work with U.S.
officials on labor-recruitment issues, according to Jesse B. Marehalau, the
country's ambassador to the United States.
Officials of the Republic of the
Marshall Islands Embassy in Washington said their government was reviewing its
laws to determine whether changes are needed to prevent abuses by recruiting
firms. They also expressed willingness to work with U.S. officials on the
"We are working actively with U.S. authorities to investigate past
abuses and to develop ways in which future occurrences can be prevented,"
Marehalau said in a statement, made in response to a series of articles
published Sept. 15-17 by The Sun and the Orlando Sentinel. The articles
described the plight of thousands of Micronesians and Marshallese, many of whom
were lured to the United States expecting to attend nursing school but ended up
in low-paying jobs emptying bedpans.
The recruits are required to sign
promissory notes or damage clauses that leave them thousands of dollars in debt
if they leave the jobs before their one- or two-year contracts are completed.
Some brokers have reneged on promises to provide return airfares, leaving
islanders stranded 8,000 miles from home.
The U.S. Department of Labor has
proposed that the contracts be banned, that brokers register with the island
countries, and that they fully disclose employment terms to prospective
The Marshall Islands government endorsed the latter idea in a
statement by its Washington embassy, which said reforms would include "providing
public information and education so that our citizens know of their risks and
Island officials said they still oppose any immigration
amendments to a 16-year-old Compact of Free Association that would impede
islanders from settling and working in the United States without obtaining a
Some provisions of the compact, which governs relations between the
island countries and the United States, are about to expire, and negotiations
over their extension are expected to be completed within the next few weeks. The
talks so far have centered on the amount of U.S. aid to the countries and the
extension of a U.S. military lease in the Marshall Islands, rather than
"The RMI does not want to dilute the rights of its
citizens to work in the U.S. as provided by the compact," the Marshall Islands'
embassy said in its statement.
Marehalau said the island government "has
pledged its full cooperation to work with the U.S. government outside the
compact-negotiating process toward an effective regulatory regime." He said
talks on those issues had begun in parallel with the talks to extend the
"This government takes very seriously any suggestion of mistreatment
of its citizens by recruitment firms, including misrepresentation of their
contract terms," Marehalau said. He said it was "unfortunate" that some
recruiters have sought to exploit provisions of the compact "for their own
Some U.S. officials are pushing an effort to amend the compact to
include recruitment-protection provisions.
"The department is anxious that
any labor issues be resolved before the compact is finalized," a Labor
Department official said.
A State Department official, speaking on
background, said, "We recognize that labor and recruitment is an important
issue," adding, "We are now working constructively on this issue."
official did not indicate whether the agency would support or oppose an
amendment to the compact, saying only, "We anticipate a satisfactory
resolution of this issue in the context of the compact negotiations."
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