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US Customs vows to block imports made by North Korea workers

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 12:41 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 12:39 AM

as well as any other goods — produced by North Korean laborers who work in China.

An Associated Press investigation tracked salmon, squid and cod processed by North Koreans working at Chinese factories and shipped to American stores, including Walmart and ALDI. The North Korean workers found in Chinese factories aren't allowed to leave, and receive only a fraction of their pay — most goes straight to the North Korean state. This means that American consumers buying seafood labeled "Caught in the USA, Processed in China" may inadvertently be subsidizing the government of Kim Jong Un as it builds nuclear weapons, and also supporting forced labor.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it is reviewing the allegations and if warranted, would "pursue all enforcement actions and prohibit goods from importation as appropriate." The companies that responded also vowed to investigate ties with suppliers.

At this point anything made by North Korean workers anywhere is presumed to be made with forced labor, the State Department said in a statement Friday.

"North Koreans sent overseas do not have a choice in the work; the government ultimately assigns them and they are not free to change jobs," said the statement, noting that wages and passports are typically withheld by North Korean supervisors.

GOP Congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey, who has repeatedly called for tougher enforcement, said the Labor Department has already identified trafficking in 12 sectors of goods exported by China.

"CBP should be stopping every shipment from those sectors — and now trafficking-tainted salmon too," he said.

A White House National Security Council spokesman said the North Korean government's scheme to outsource its labor underscores why the United States has pushed for restrictions on North Korean foreign workers. The spokesman said all countries should, at a minimum, ban companies from bringing in North Korean crews, as pledged in recent United Nations sanctions.

China is among the countries that have promised to comply, already banning imports of North Korean seafood, and saying no more North Korean workers will be allowed starting next year.

"But all nations must go further and reject what is clearly a despicable practice that only serves the regime's nuclear ambitions," said the NSC spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment.

Walmart said its supplier has addressed the problem, although it did not specify how. Walmart and ALDI said they are committed to human rights and fair labor practices, and expect the same from their business partners.

At a time when North Korea faces sanctions on many exports, the government is sending tens of thousands of workers worldwide, bringing in revenue estimated at anywhere from $200 million to $500 million a year. That could account for a sizable portion of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs, which South Korea says have cost more than $1 billion.

North Koreans overseas work in construction in the Gulf states, shipbuilding in Poland, logging in Russia. In Uruguay, authorities told AP, about 90 North Koreans crewed fishing boats last year.

"I am not surprised at all," said Anthony Talbott, who directs the University of Dayton's Human Rights Center. "North Korea has probably the single highest level of state-sanctioned slavery in the world, it's a major source of income for them."

Among those North Korean laborers in China, roughly 3,000 are believed to work in the northeast industrial hub of Hunchun, just a few miles from the borders of both North Korea and Russia. AP documented North Koreans in several Hunchun seafood processing plants, and tracked their supply chains to importers, including Sea-Trek Enterprises in Rhode Island, where managers said they are being inundated with phone calls from customers and suppliers since the AP story.

Sea-Trek's owners said that they hadn't visited China and were unaware of the makeup of the workers, but would immediately cease dealings with the plant until the situation is resolved.

"Sea-Trek will not purchase product from any company using forced labor," said vice president Mitch Sarnoff.

Mark Liszt, owner of Lawrence Wholesale, a national food distributor in Southern California, said it would investigate its suppliers as well.

"We're middlemen," said Liszt. "We do make a practice of trying to go and visit the plants that we buy from in person, but it's not a perfect world that we can see into every single one."

Some U.S. brands and companies had indirect ties to the North Korean laborers in Hunchun, including Chicken of the Sea, owned by Thai Union. Trade records show shipments came from a sister company of the Hunchun factory in another part of China, where Thai Union spokeswoman Whitney Small says labor standards are being met and the employees are all Chinese. Small said the sister company should not be penalized.

AP observed North Korean workers in Chinese factories building hardwood flooring, sewing garments and manufacturing electronics. Fordham University economics professor Giacomo Santangelo said he doubts it's just fish processed by North Korean workers that reaches the U.S. markets.

"Now we need to ask, how many other products imported from China are made with North Korean labor?" he said.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York said U.S. officials must keep products made by North Koreans out of the United States.

"The administration needs to ramp up the pressure on China to crack down on trade with North Korea across the board," he said.

Ohio's Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who helped pass North Korea, Iran and Russia sanctions this summer, said corporations also have a responsibility to make sure they are abiding by U.N. sanctions and U.S. laws.

However, Bucknell University political science professor Zhiqun Zhu said a sanction-based approach that cracks down on imports isn't going to solve the problem.

"It has so many loopholes," he said. "All sticks and no carrots will not make the North Korea problem disappear."

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Read earlier story in seafood investigation — http://bit.ly/2kof26j — and more in the series: https://www.apnews.com/tag/RepublicofKim

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House defeats one GOP immigration bill, delays vote on second plan

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 3:04 PM

Struggling to find consensus on immigration reform, the House on Thursday rejected a more conservative Republican immigration reform bill, and then in a bid to salvage the effort, GOP leaders delayed action on a second immigration reform measure until Friday.

41 House Republicans voted against the first GOP bill, which was defeated on a vote of 231-193, as the plan received more votes than most GOP lawmakers had expected.

The Republicans who voted against the first GOP bill were a mixture of the Republican Party’s different flanks, featuring more conservative lawmakers who wanted to do more, and moderates who felt it went too far.

“This is a difficult issue,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), who voted for this bill, but wouldn’t tell reporters whether he would support a second measure on Friday.

“Any jot or tittle one way or the other, you lose people because of the complexities, because of the sensitivities, and the emotions in this particular piece of legislation,” Meadows said.

Here is the list of the 41 Republicans who voted “No.”

One of the reasons more moderate Republicans voted against the first bill was because of the lack of a path to citizenship for younger illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. by their parents.

While that is in the bill to be voted on Friday, those provisions then could cause some other Republicans to vote against it, arguing it is nothing but amnesty.

“I’m a big fat no, capital letters” said Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), after the first vote.

“It doesn’t do anything to stop illegal immigration,” Barletta added.

In debate on the House floor, Democrats focused mainly on the more recent immigration battle over the separation of illegal immigrant families, blaming President Donald Trump for doing little to seek compromise.

“On this issue, God is going to judge you as well,” said Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) said to Republicans who were backing the President’s get-tough effort on the border.

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Supreme Court: States can force online sellers to collect sales taxes

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 10:48 AM

In a decision that will impact online shopping for all Americans, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a South Dakota law which required online companies to collect and remit state sales taxes, even if that company did not have a ‘physical presence’ in the state.

“Each year, the physical presence rule becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the States,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a 5-4 decision.

“These critiques underscore that the physical presence rule, both as first formulated and as applied today, is an incorrect interpretation of the Commerce Clause,” the majority wrote.

The ruling overturned previous Supreme Court precedents from the 1992 Quill case, which had theoretically made internet sales a tax-free zone in certain situations; over the years, that changed, but this ruling will now require online sellers to collect sales taxes for all states.

The decision allows state and local governments now to press online retailers to collect sales tax revenues – which some experts believe could bring in billions of dollars in additional revenues, which would be collected if the online seller had a ‘physical presence’ – a store – in that state.

Maybe the most interesting part of the ruling was the lineup of Justices, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined with Kennedy, and three more conservative Justices to provide the majority, while the Chief Justice sided with the remaining three more liberal Justices.

“This Court ‘does not overturn its precedents lightly,'” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the minority, as he said the Court was wrong to change the way states can deal with sales taxes and online sales, arguing the Legislative Branch should take that step.

“Any alteration to those rules with the potential to disrupt the development
of such a critical segment of the economy should be undertaken by Congress,” Roberts wrote.

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House to vote on two GOP immigration bills – both may fail

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 7:28 AM

After months of internal wrangling over how best to deal with illegal immigration, the House is poised on Thursday to debate and vote on two immigration reform bills written by Republicans – but because of fissures inside the GOP – it’s possible both measures may go down to defeat on Thursday afternoon.

“This is very good compromise legislation,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was struggling to convince more conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus to back a bill that some GOP lawmakers denounced as “amnesty” for illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”

“The failed policies of previous administrations have catered to open border radicals and left Americans less free, less safe,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), one Freedom Caucus member reluctant to vote for a more moderate GOP measure.

The internal bickering boiled over on the House floor on Wednesday afternoon, when Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) appeared to engage in an angry back-and-forth with Speaker Ryan, during a vote on the House floor.

With no Democrats expected to back either of the GOP immigration bills – a rupture inside the GOP on these plans will lead to only one thing – defeat.

Two measures are on the schedule in the House – the “Securing America’s Future Act,” and the “Border Security and Immigration Reform Act.”

The first bill is the more conservative measure, drafted mainly by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the head of the House Judiciary Committee.

“I’m a ‘yes’ ‘yes,'” Goodlatte said of how he would vote on both bills. “I want 218 votes.”

But the chances of getting a majority on either bill seemed slim – moderates think the conservative bill is too harsh, while conservatives think the more moderate measure doesn’t do enough.

The measures delve deeply into a number of subjects, how to treat illegal immigrant DACA “Dreamers,” reform the asylum system, a host of changes in interior immigration enforcement laws, ending the diversity visa lottery, reforms for temporary agricultural workers, measures to address so-called “sanctuary cities,” more aggressive efforts to return unaccompanied children and other migrants, and much more.

The Goodlatte bill runs 414 pages – the other plan backed by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Rep. Carlos Curbelo totals 299 pages.

The House debate comes a day after a rare retreat by President Trump on the issue of immigration, as he announced a hastily drawn executive order, designed to stop the forced separation of illegal immigrant families.

But Democrats said while the order stopped children from being taken away from their parents, it left many questions unanswered.

“The president’s order does not solve this problem”,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “It does nothing to reunify the 2,300 children who have been taken from their parents.”

“As a country, we are better than this! Separating children from their parents,” said Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL)

Republicans also chided the White House.

“It is about time the Administration takes action to address this issue, but more needs to be done,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). “I want to make sure this practice is ended, unequivocally, and I strongly believe we still must take legislative action.”

“The President did the right thing by signing an executive order to keep families together at the border,” added Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL).

But despite all the talk, nothing on that seems likely to make it through the Congress anytime soon – as a possible double defeat for the GOP in the House on immigration reform seemed a strong possibility.

And it was obvious that a visit by President Trump on Tuesday night to the Capitol had done little to unify Republicans, as the President took another jab on Wednesday as Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), after mocking Sanford during the GOP meeting.

“I have never been a fan of his!” the President said of Sanford on Twitter.

“This was a classless cheap shot,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).

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Trump stops family separations, keeps ‘zero tolerance’ at border

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 3:42 PM

Under growing pressure from lawmakers in both parties, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order that would allow illegal immigrant families detained by U.S. border authorities to remain together in many situations, ending an outcry over forced separations which took young children from their parents.

“I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” the President told reporters in the Oval Office, as he signed the new plan, which was drawn up as more and more Republicans publicly said Mr. Trump’s border crackdown had become a PR nightmare.

“The border is just as tough, but we do want to keep families together,” the President told reporters, as he repeatedly emphasized that an early May “zero tolerance” prosecution policy for those caught crossing the border illegally would continue.

It was that Trump Administration change which resulted in families being separated in recent weeks, spurring multiple news stories about young children, taken hundreds of miles away from their parents.

The signing represented a rare retreat for the President on any controversial policy during his administration; in recent days, top officials had repeatedly said there was no requirement that families be separated, but under current federal law, that option was triggered when parents of the kids were prosecuted, under the ‘zero tolerance’ plan.

“We have to have strong borders, and ultimately it will be done right,” the President declared.

Mr. Trump had tried in recent days to place the blame on Democrats in Congress, saying his hands were tied on the matter of family separations, as top officials said the law left them no leeway for change.

“What about executive action?” the President was asked during an impromptu press conference with reporters on the White House driveway last Friday.

“You can’t do it through an executive order,” Mr. Trump replied.

But that’s what he ultimately did.

The President’s move came amid a growing firestorm of criticism in Congress from members of both parties in the Congress, stirred by stories of young children taken away from their parents.

“This must stop NOW,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), as he noted a story from his home state, where an 8-month old baby had been brought, after being taken from her parents.

“He can sign an executive order today,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who was blocked on Tuesday from visiting a group of detained children at a federal facility in Homestead, Florida.

“This shameful chapter in American history lies with the President and his pen,” Nelson said, arguing the President started these separations, and should halt them.

“We must stop the madness, and stop it now,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).

“America is weakened in the eyes of the world,” added Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).

“This is a policy straight from the pit of hell,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

GOP leaders also made clear they wanted the Trump Administration to change course.

“As I said last week, we do not want children taken away from their parents,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, as he urged GOP lawmakers to unite behind a pair of immigration bills which are expected to be voted on Thursday.

But while the Speaker and other Republicans said provisions in those bills would fix the family separation matter – those plans would not advance through the Senate – making it unlikely that Congress could anything done on the family separation matter.

That left the President with just one option – an administrative reversal on something that he had fiercely stood behind the effort.

The change on illegal immigrant families came in early May, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy dealing with those illegally coming over the southern border.

“Today we are here to send a message to the world: we are not going to let this country be overwhelmed,” Sessions said in that May 7 speech.

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