Diplomatic Immunity: Foreign Diplomats In US Abusing Household Workers
by Jim Kouri
In 2007, the US Department of State reported that some foreign diplomats are suspected of abusing the household workers they brought to the United States on A-3 or G-5 visas.
The US Congress directed the Government Accounting Office to determine the number of A-3 or G-5 visa holders who have alleged abuse by foreign diplomats with immunity since 2000 and to review the US government's process for investigating these allegations.
The GAO was also directed to assess how the State Department ensures that its policies for issuing A-3 and G-5 visas are implemented correctly and consistently. The GAO analyzed documents, interviewed officials, and conducted fieldwork at four consular posts that issue large numbers of A-3 or G-5 visas.
The GAO identified 42 household workers with A-3 or G-5 visas who alleged that they were abused by foreign diplomats with immunity from 2000 through 2008, but the total number is likely higher. The total number of alleged incidents since 2000 is likely higher for four reasons: household workers' fear of contacting law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations' protection of victim confidentiality, limited information on some cases handled by the US government, and federal agencies' challenges identifying cases.
For example, the State Department has several offices that receive allegations of abuse by foreign diplomats, but no single office maintains information on all allegations. The US government's process for investigating alleged abuse of household workers by foreign diplomats is complicated by three factors.
First, immunity can pose constraints for law enforcement in collecting evidence. Second, the status of foreign diplomats can heighten their workers' sense of vulnerability, causing the workers to fear cooperating with investigators. Third, the length of time it takes to obtain a legal opinion from State on the permissibility of using certain investigative techniques can hamper investigations.
According to the State Department, although some techniques are clearly prohibited by international law (such as searching certain diplomats' residences), the permissibility of others under international law is less clear. In advising on the use of investigative techniques, the State Department considers legal and policy issues, such as reciprocity--assessing how US diplomats abroad might be affected by actions taken toward a foreign diplomat on US soil.
State Department officials may ask the Justice Department to provide information to help determine the permissibility of certain techniques, but the process of obtaining this information can be difficult and time consuming for Justice officials.
Although both State and Justice Departments have discussed creating a process to avoid delays, no formal actions have, thus far, been taken to establish one. Weaknesses exist in State's process for ensuring correct and consistent implementation of policies and procedures for issuing A-3 and G-5 visas.
The GAO's review of employment contracts submitted at four consular posts by A-3 and G-5 visa applicants showed that they often did not include State's required components, such as a guarantee of the minimum or prevailing wage.
The GAO also found that officers at the four posts were unclear about or unfamiliar with certain aspects of State's guidance. Few of the officers were aware that they should inform A-3 and G-5 visa applicants of their rights under US law during their interview. Some officers at the four posts also were uncertain about the reasons for refusing A-3 or G-5 visas. State is considering adding provisions to its guidance that would more clearly stipulate reasons for refusing these visas, such as if an A-3 or G-5 applicant seeks to work for a foreign diplomat who is linked to a pattern of employee disappearance, abuse allegations, or other irregularities.
However, the State Department has not reached internal agreement on these provisions and has set no timetable for doing so. State headquarters officials said they rely on individual posts to monitor implementation of A-3 and G-5 visa policies and procedures and do not routinely assess posts' compliance
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.