comscore How U.S. laws trap foreign workers on Hawaii’s fishing boats | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News

How U.S. laws trap foreign workers on Hawaii’s fishing boats


    U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer checks the documents of a Filipino fisherman aboard an American fishing vessel docked in Honolulu.

Though federal laws and rules don’t mention Hawaii’s fishing fleet by name, technicalities buried in immigration law, maritime regulations and agency rule books have combined to give it a rare distinction: In the Aloha State hundreds of foreign fishermen are stuck on their boats for years.

The Magnuson-Stevens and Jones acts make up the basis for most U.S. fishing laws. Their premise is that citizens should benefit from the work, food supply and revenue from American seafood. Boat owners, captains, and most of their crew are supposed to be American.

A rare exception, backed by Hawaii’s lawmakers, says noncitizens can be used only to catch “highly migratory species” and only outside of the exclusive economic zone. That narrows it down mostly to Hawaiian vessels catching swordfish and tuna.

And so the fishermen in Hawaii fall into legal purgatory.

Since the boats call the U.S. their home, the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual says the workers aren’t just foreign-based workers coming ashore for a break. If they were, they’d be eligible for a visa. Instead, they’re supposed to get immigrant visas, as if they were trying to move here.

That’s not happening under Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security. Customs regional director Brian Humphrey said it’s “administratively cumbersome” with “no value added” to give them those immigrant visas. After all, the men are only here temporarily, with permanent homes abroad.

And so officials depend on another federal law that says boat owners are responsible for detaining foreign workers on board until they get visitor or immigration visas. Since those visas are not being issued, the fishermen remain captive in their place of work.

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        • Of course this article was written by two women who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. Many of these so called “unfortunates”, are making far more money than they would be otherwise, but to two progressive women, they have to be compared to Americans. They aren’t Americans. They aren’t citizens. They don’t have the rights, nor should they, of citizens. For this elf you who constantly banter against America, there is a reason people want to come here, and be citizens. All they need to do is get in line. Citizenship had it’s privileges. Today’s progressive want to water it down, so anyone, anywhere, can have it. Cellodad, you have no idea what you’re taking about either. Plenty of locals man those vessels, and do a great job of it! Of course you wouldn’t know that because you like spouting-off about things you know nothing about. It somehow makes you feel good, and of course to you, feeling good about something, is everything, regardless of the facts. What a complete moronsky.

  • Slavery is what it is. Perfect system that starts off with corrupt officials in a greedy industry. They are slaves. Jim Cook (Hawaii Long Line Associating) and Kitty Simonds of the Wespac (department of commerce are criminals, traffickers an liars. They know what is going on. The boats are filthy and the men ate held as prisoners. Flo Nakakuni should be arrested and removed as the United States Attorney. Customs Border Protection/ Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard are in this up to their necks. They are running this illegal trafficking by adding the traffickers. Go and see how these men live. See what kind of sanitation and lack of toilets and showers. The FBI, Homeland Security and the police know that these men are trafficked illegally. The Attorney General in the state of Hawaii is complicit and all of these illegals hav no Hawaii fishing licenses from the State Department of Land and Natural Resources. My goodness… send these people home. We have no idea how many have escaped into the community. Total corruption. And the government is involved with the traffickers.

  • Flo Nakakuni has been a bureaucrat too long — she has lost her humanity. As for WESTPAC’s Kitty Simonds, I highly doubt that the native Hawaiian traditional fishing practitioners she has lured to ally with these commercial interests have any idea that she is protecting slavers. Let’s support Maizie Hirono’s efforts to close the legal loophole that allows American employers to treat their workers like slaves.

    • Another completely ignorant comment brought to you by someone who knows nothing about the issue. There are plenty of local guys on those vessels. They do a great job, and you malign all of them. What a piece of work.

      • Good call peanut gallery. Local guys on those boats. Tell us who they are. Please. Help us ignorant people understand. Oh, there are plenty of local guys working 18 hour days for .70 cents per hour. They are beating down the fences at pier 17-18 to get those uninsured, no benefits, filthy jobs under horrible living conditions that operate 24/7 non stop for three weeks. Return to port without a shower and being confined to a very small boat with up to eight other guys that have not bathed in three weeks. I don’t know of many people that want to work on slave ships with little food. But you seem to have a handle on that.

        • Just require the boats to pay the same wages as local fishermen as well as benefits, insurance, etc.

  • Don’t forget that it was Cook, Martin, Ariyoshi, Cayetano, Kitty Simonds, Peter Apo, the Hawaii Long Line Association and other beneficiaries of this slavery that fought against expanding the Papahanaumokuakea. Ever wondered why no fishermen were in the group of protestors? It is in black and white and before your eyes. The fisherman were illegally trafficked as slave labor and if they left the vessels for any reason the could be physically punished or sent home with no money. It all here. How can these people claim that they were acting in the interest of Native Hawaiians. Or that the industry needed the area for local fishermen. The entire thing was a scam on the Hawaiian public. Thanks to President Obama, Senators Shatz and Hirono and sudden awakening Governor Ige the scam was foiled. Now the State must deal with the illegal fishing license (ghost licenses) issued by the DLNR. Where is Ms. Suzanne Case when her law enforcement officers were continually exposed to danger, health and otherwise. The State Department of Health needs to inspect those vessels and each trafficked crew member for communicable diseases. The Hawaii State Department of Taxation needs to look into wages and income tax not paid… no paper trail all cash. Then we need to look at ourselves as human beings and understand that this is a crime against humanity and those that are responsible should be punished. We let this happen. Many of us knew this was happening. The money was good and the victims did not matter. Just little brown men… similar to Aloun farms. No big deal. Law enforcement did not care and daily turned a blind eye. And the shame of Regional Customs director Brian Humphrey.. saying that, “it would be administratively cumbersome” to manage the situation. Now we pay and our children pay because they see corruption first hand, and the world sees the dysfunctional system of long line fishing in Hawaii. Our children see what we do. What do you say? Sorry, that I stole peoples lives. Sorry, that people were injured and some may have died making this deadly journey. This cannot be in America. No, this cannot happen here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Now deal with it. Restaurants, supermarkets, stores, vendors, traffickers. Deal with it. Costco, Roys’, Sams Club…deal with it.

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