Plea to Congress to End Sexual Bondage in U.S. Islands

A 23-year-old woman sold into sexual slavery in the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States, told her story of kidnapping, rape and a lucky escape to members of Congress today, as part of an effort to expose lax laws and officials accused by reformers of tolerating rampant human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

"I was scared. I started crying. I told him, 'I don't like. I don't like.' He then started to rape me," Kayleen Entena testified today in a hearing on immigration, labor, law enforcement and economic conditions in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

Entena was "recruited" in the Philippines to work as a waitress in Saipan, lured by the prospect of earning money to bring her family out of poverty.


Laurie Ogumoro, a social worker in Saipan who also testified today, says women are trafficked into Saipan and sold into sexual bondage all the time. 

She says she hopes the attention in Washington will push CNMI officials to reform immigration, control the border and prevent the abuse that Entena experienced.

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Ogumoro says government officials view cases like Entena's as "isolated incidents."  CNMI's Lieutenant Governor Timothy Villagomez will be testifying later today.

But Ogumoro says she saw 30 cases last year of women trafficked into the CNMI from the Philippines, China and elsewhere in Asia, who were then sold into virtual bondage as housekeepers, working 21 hours a day, physically and mentally abused or, like Entena, forced into prostitution. "Those women are the ones who made it to the shelter; there are countless others," she testified.

The CNMI Attorney General's office released a statement today saying, "The CNMI maintains its commitment to strong law enforcement against persons who exploit overseas workers. When allegations of abuse are made, we assign those cases the highest priority." 

According to Assistant Attorney General Kevin Lynch, the men and women who sold Entena into sexual slavery are in prison. "There was no evidence of corruption or laxity by immigration officials. This was a situation where the suspects lied to the workers and lied to immigration in order to get the women into the Commonwealth."

Allan Stayman, staff member on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, says today's testimonies are part of a 30-year battle to improve labor, immigration and human rights in the CNMI.

A series of reports by Brian Ross on ABC News' 20/20 in the late '90s revealed disturbing sweatshop conditions for workers in factories on the island.  Saipan manufacturers produced clothes for major American labels, such as Tommy Hilfiger, which says it no longer manufactures in Saipan, and Ralph Lauren and the Gap, which still do in limited quantities.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his Republican allies, including now former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, trampled efforts to improve conditions and wages for workers in the CNMI, according to Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who fought for more that 10 years for the cause.

Now with Democrats in charge of Congress, the House recently voted to increase the minimum wage for all American workers, including those in Saipan.

Stayman says the purpose of the hearing today is to update Congress on the socio-economic impacts facing the CNMI due to the continued import of alien guest workers since the committee's last hearing in 1999 and to determine how legislation should proceed. Population growth, development of a two-tiered economy, border control issues and worker abuse will be addressed.

Ogumoro says Entena's visa to "work" in Saipan was illegally "taken care of" in a few days by her traffickers who found her in Manila, and within a week she was brought into the CNMI, destined for exploitation and rape by local and foreign men. 

She says her story embodies the absence of border and immigration control and human rights that CNMI officials need to address.  "We can't continue down this path."

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