The US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held hearings yesterday on the labor, immigration, law enforcement, and economic conditions in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. A US territory in the Pacific Ocean, the Northern Mariana Islands are currently exempt from US labor and immigration laws, though minimum wage bills that were recently passed in both the House and the Senate would include the territory. Yesterday's hearings focused on whether the Northern Mariana Islands should be brought under the US' labor and immigration law enforcement jurisdiction.
Ms. magazine brought the plight of the Northern Mariana Islands' predominately female, low-wage work-force to the attention of readers across the nation in a special investigative report, "Paradise Lost." The Northern Mariana Islands' economy is heavily dependent on garment factories that employ mostly female migrants, who have worked up to 20 hours a day in sweatshop conditions. Despite the territory's relaxed labor laws and minimum wage that is far under the US minimum wage, the clothing produced in the Mariana Islands is still allowed to carry "Made in the Mariana Islands (USA)" or even "Made in the USA" labels.
At yesterday's hearings, Kayleen D. Entena, a 23-year-old woman who was trafficked into the Northern Mariana Islands and forced into prostitution, testified about the conditions that women face. "I want the [Northern Mariana Islands] Government and immigration officials to revise or make their requirements stricter," Entena said. "I am hoping that this kind of illegal system will stop, the way it happened to me, the way I was treated. I do not want this to happen to anyone. I know that there are other women out in the community like me� Please help change the way the government functions here." Sister Mary Stella Mangona, who works with female victims of human trafficking, testified that the "'system' as a whole" is of concern, not just the actions or oversight of any one department.
David B. Cohen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs, testified that the Northern Mariana Islands' two major industries, garment manufacturing and tourism, have significantly declined and that the US Federal Government must be careful not to exacerbate the Islands' "very fragile economic and fiscal condition." Cohen also said, "Before considering legislation that would drastically change the lives of the people of the [Northern Mariana Islands], we hope that Congress will consider granting them a seat at the table at which their fate will be decided." It should be noted that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff formerly worked on behalf of the Northern Mariana Islands' government and garment industry to ensure that Congress would not pass laws to upgrade wages and working conditions for immigrant laborers.
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .