Indentured Workers in the Mariana Islands

From Dover Bitch, writing at Hullabaloo: Why is this hearing important? After all, it's not on the evening news. It's not even scheduled to be broadcast live on C-SPAN. The truth is, this hearing is only important to people who believe that America shouldn't be a place like this:
Using its immigration authority, the Commonwealth has created an economy that relies upon the wholesale importation of low-paid, short-term indentured workers. Foreign workers pay up to $7,000 to employers or middlemen for the right to a job in the CNMI. When they finally reach the Commonwealth, they are assigned to tedious, low paying work for long hours with little or no time off. At night they are locked in prison-like barracks. If they complain, they are subject to immediate deportation at the whim of their employer. Some arrive in the islands only to find that they were victims of an employment scam. There are no jobs waiting for them, and no way to work off their bondage debt.
The piece goes on to describe how a bill to rectify this situation, passed unanimously by the Senate in 2000, was derailed by the radical corporatists in the House. Neither of my Senators is on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, so, having lived in Washington State for many years, I wrote to Maria Cantwell:

Dear Ms. Cantwell, I write to you as a former Washingtonian (UW 1978) because I do not have a senator on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In any case, the issue I want to address transcends state politics. I refer to the issues covered in the provisions of Senate Bill 1634, specifically the treatment of workers in the Mariana Islands. The documented cases of fraud, indentured servitude, physical abuse, and sexual exploitation of legal immigrants on US soil must be addressed and such actions stopped. The Senate unanimously passed such a bill in 2000, but it was derailed by the right-wing radicals in the House, led by the now-discredited Tom DeLay using the illegal special interest money paid by convicted political corrupter Jack Abramoff. We as a country con now begin to heal this moral wound in the body politic. Please, Senator, don't just support S. 1634, become its champion. This is not an issue the news media is likely to pay attention to and you will be unlikely to receive the thanks of a grateful public, but you will receive my thanks, and, more important, the thanks of the suffering and exploited indentured workers of the Mariana Islands.

Take a couple of minutes this morning & write to a member of the committee. If a senator from your state sits on the Committee, so much the better, but this is not a local issue. There are plenty of horrors in the world & this is only one horror -- one to which very few people are paying attention -- but you have to start somewhere. Use what's left of our representative government to make a positive difference, however small, in the world.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.