Role of Federal Ombudsman in Northern Marianas Expanded

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 23, 2011) – Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Tony Babauta, during a meeting today with US Attorney Alicia Limtiaco, discussed plans to expand the responsibilities of the Interior Department’s Northern Marianas Islands Federal Ombudsman to include Guam. The Federal Ombudsman, Ms. Pamela Brown, was present for the meeting between Babauta and Limtiaco.

“Initially, I have asked Ombudsman Brown to work closely with USAG Limtiaco in her efforts to raise the awareness of human trafficking issues for the Marianas Archipelago.  Even without the realigning of US military forces in the Pacific, there is a growing concern with all types of human trafficking both internationally and domestically which cannot be tolerated by our communities,” Babauta said.

The Obama Administration stepped up its efforts to raise awareness and to address human trafficking.  In its 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, the Administration reported on human trafficking for the first time in the United States and its insular areas.  In response to that Report, President Obama established the Senior Policy Operating Group on Anti-trafficking in Persons; which Babauta was appointed to last year. Further, the report recommended that in order to better combat human trafficking, the United States needed to intensify enforcement and workers rights infrastructure, such as ombudsman offices, in insular areas. Expansion of the Northern Marianas Ombudsman’s responsibilities to the entire archipelago is the first step in the adoption of that recommendation. 

“Since becoming the regional USAG Limtiaco has provided training to law enforcement community in combating human trafficking and to the community to raise awareness of the issues of human trafficking. Officially adding Ms. Brown will supplement her efforts.”

Ombudsman Brown provides alien workers with the opportunity to state claims, including human trafficking, to a federal official who can then assist the workers in the appropriate handling of such claims by a local or federal agency.  Since the office opened, her office has assisted approximately 10,000 individuals with such claims.  Of this number, approximately 320 have been identified as human trafficking victims.

Ms. Brown was the first Federal Ombudsman in the CNMI, establishing the Northern Marianas Ombudsman’s office in early 1999.  In 2002, Ms. Brown left the office to work in the administration of former Governor Juan N. Babauta becoming the CNMI Attorney General.  Under her tenure, she was responsible for labor and immigration enforcement as well as lead negotiator for the establishment of the first refugee protection program in the CNMI as part of the United States’ international treaty obligations.  Just prior to returning to the Ombudsman position in 2009, Ms. Brown served for a year as executive director of an Orange County, California NGO combating trafficking in S.E. Asia.

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