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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

[Congressional Record: July 26, 2001 (Extensions)]
[Page E1442]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:cr26jy01-17]                         
 
       CONGRESS MUST END LABOR RIGHTS VIOLATIONS ON AMERICAN SOIL
                                 ______                                 

                           HON. GEORGE MILLER

                             of california

                    in the house of representatives

                        Thursday, July 26, 2001

  Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. Mr. Speaker, years have passed since 
the Departments of Labor-Interior-Justice and INS first documented 
widespread sweatshop conditions under the American Flag in the U.S. 
territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (US/
CNMI). Years have passed since national media such as ABC's 20/20 first 
reported that thousands of young, Asian women in the US/CNMI toil as 
many as 12 hours a day at sub-minimum wages under dangerous and 
unhealthy conditions. And years have passed since U.S. Congress first 
had the chance to protect those who work on American soil by finally 
ending the exemption that has allowed this U.S. territory from 
following U.S. labor and immigration laws. Yet the Congress has turned 
a blind eye and allowed this exploitation to continue.
  Too many US/CNMI clothing manufacturers continue to show complete 
disregard for U.S. laws. During the three-year period that ended on 
June 1, 2001, nearly 60% of the factories inspected by the Wage and 
Hour division of the Department of Labor had wage violations, and in 
one case, a single US/CNMI corporation owed more than $1 million in 
back-wages to its employees.
  The Congress is partly responsible for the conditions that led to 
these labor violations. As you may be aware, federal immigration and 
minimum wage laws were not immediately extended to the territory when 
the Congress first established the US/CNMI. The temporary exemption was 
intended to help the territory develop its economy with local workers 
while responding to local concerns that U.S. immigration laws were too 
lax. However, the opposite has turned out to be the case. The local 
government has used its local control over its own lax immigration 
procedures to create a caste system that relegates disenfranchised 
foreign workers to the most abusive labor conditions and lowest wages. 
According to 1999 statistics, foreign workers held more than 85% of all 
private sector jobs, where they worked for sub-minimum wages, while 
nearly 50% of local residents held government jobs, where starting 
salaries are more than seven times that of the private sector.
  For many years, the US/CNMI has aggressively developed an economy 
based on the importation of tens of thousands of desperately poor 
foreign workers from Asia who pay between $3,000-$7,000 for what they 
are told are good jobs in ``America.'' Instead these workers are 
surrounded by barbed wire as the toil under the same dangerous 
unhealthy working conditions that are far too common in many of the 
countries from which they came. This practice of shipping indebted 
women from their native countries to sweatshops on American soil 
continues today, and
  Many of our constituents would be surprised to learn that the 
garments manufactured in the US/CNMI--in foreign owned factories with 
foreign labor and foreign fabric--are awarded use of the ``Made in 
USA'' label and enter the states both quota and duty free. In 2000, 
over $1 billion worth of garments came to the states, depriving the 
U.S. taxpayers of more than $200 million in duty fees. We are allowing 
US/CNMI garment manufacturers to deceive American consumers with the 
use of this label, and we are providing them with an enormous subsidy 
as they do it. This cannot continue. We must only offer the benefits of 
the ``Made in the USA'' label and duty free importing to those U.S. 
territories that agree to follow U.S. laws.
  While the House Republicans have refused to even hold a hearing on 
the exploitation of workers in the US/CNMI, I am glad to report that we 
are beginning to win support from other places. On May 15, 2001, the 
Bush Administration endorsed the idea of federalizing immigration 
policy in the US/CNMI in the form of a letter from John Ashcroft's 
Assistant Attorney General. The Bush Administration endorsement argued 
that extending Federal rules to the territory: . . . would improve 
immigration policy by guarding against the exploitation and abuse of 
individuals, by helping ensure that the United States adheres to its 
international treaty obligation to protect refugees, and by further 
hindering the entry into United States territory of aliens engaged in 
international organized crime, terrorism, or other such activities.
  Congress cannot continue to stand by and allow these labor abuses to 
continue on American soil. Today, I am joined by more than 40 co-
sponsors as we introduce the ``CNMI Human Dignity Act,'' which would 
require that the Americans living in the US/CNMI live under the same 
laws as all of our constituents in our home districts. This legislation 
would extend U.S. immigration and minimum wage laws to the US/CNMI. 
This legislation also includes a provision to preserve the integrity of 
the ``Made in USA'' label by requiring that this benefit only be 
allowed for garments made in compliance with U.S. immigration and labor 
practices. It also conditions duty-free and quota-free imports from the 
US/CNMI upon compliance with U.S. laws. In addition, the legislation 
creates a one-time grandfather provision that allows non-resident 
individuals who have been long-term employees in the US/CNMI on the 
date of enactment to apply for permanent residence. Lastly, this 
legislation would assure that U.S. Customs agents have the authority to 
board and inspect ships in US/CNMI waters to address the numerous 
allegations of illegal transhipment of fully completed garments from 
Asia.
  No member of the House of Representatives would tolerate sub-minimum 
wages and other severe forms of labor exploitation in his or her home 
district, and we should not tolerate those conditions in the American 
territories either. I urge you to join me in supporting the CNMI Human 
Dignity Act.

                          ____________________




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