April 18, 2011

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Longview, Washington, USA-On March 24, 2011 a federal grand jury in the Western District of Washington State handed down an indictment for forced labor and attempted forced labor against two citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia currently residing in Longview, Washington.

Edk Kenit, 29, and Choimina Lukas, 31 , who are "boyfriend and girlfriend" were arrested on charges that they compelled by threats of "serious harm," a 19-year-old young woman, known only in court documents as "S.S.," to provide domestic service and manual labor in their home without compensation. "S.S." is also a citizen of the FSM. Kenit and Lukas each face one count of Forced Labor and Attempted Forced Labor

They also face an allegation of forfeiture that would allow the US government to seize any of the couple's assets that were "obtained directly or indirectly from the commission of the offense of which the defendants are convicted," if they are convicted.

A person in the U.S. can offer to help out around the house of friends or family on a casual basis But when a person is forced to work and is denied freedoms, a line is crossed not only in the U.S. but in many other countries that enforce human trafficking laws. U.S. law stringently protects the rights of individuals within its borders who are forced by cogent threats of violence, intimidation, or, as has also been alleged in this case, sexual assault, to provide services of any kind.

"No one should be forced to live in a world of isolation and servitude, particularly in this country where we take pride in our individual and collective freedoms," said Leigh Winchell, Special Agent in Charge of Washington State's Office of Homeland Securities. "This indictment sends a strong message to those who falsely believe they can hold people against their will and act with impunity."

As is true for anyone accused of a crime in the United States, charges in the indictment documents against Kenit and Lukas are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

According to a report from TDN.com, a daily news website delivering news to the Lower Columbia area of Washington, both Lukas and Kenit have had problems with the law before. According to that news source, Kenit served a three day sentence for drunk driving in 2008 and Lukas worked off a $300 fine for a charge of fourth degree assault (domestic violence) charge in 2009.

A detention motion filed by United States attorneys argued that both Kenit and Lukas should be jailed until trial for several reasons including a "serious risk that defendants will flee," as well as a "serious risk of obstruction of justice, including intimidation of a prospective witness or juror."

In support of their motion prosecutors added that Kenit is alleged to have sexually assaulted "S.S." on multiple occasions during the 11 months that the victim provided labor and services for the couple. After "S.S." escaped from the defendants' home, Kenit allegedly "made efforts to locate her when she was attempting to obtain assistance to flee from the defendants, and after she escaped from the defendant's home."

Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the US Attorney's Office in the Western District of Washington said in an email that local law enforcement agencies (LEA's) could file charges for sexual assault against Kenit. "Generally they wait to fi le charges until the federal prosecution is complete. They may evaluate whether an additional State prosecution makes sense based upon the outcome of the federal case."

Arguing for detention of Lukas, US attorneys said that she "is alleged to have obstructed justice by removing and attempting to remove S.S. from a shelter to conceal her from law enforcement and to compel S.S. to continue providing labor and services for the defendants. Defendant Lukas held S.S.'s passport and social security card to prevent S.S. from leaving and to compel and cause S.S. to continue to provide labor and services. Defendant Lukas has also made several efforts to locate S.S. since S.S.'s escape from the defendants' residence." As the first argument on the motion for detention for both defendants, U.S. prosecutors argued that Kenit and Lukas are citizens of the FSM and that an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainer had been placed against both of them.

"An immigration detainer," according to the website of the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), "is a tool used by ICE and other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials to identify potentially deportable individuals who are housed in jails or prisons nationwide. An immigration detainer is an official request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to another law enforcement agency-such as a state or local jail-that the LEA notify ICE prior to releasing an individual from local custody so that ICE can arrange to take over custody."

The IPC website says that ICE detainers are an "often misunderstood immigration enforcement tool," and that ICE detainers "are requests, not commands." According to the ICP website, an ICE detainer simply "allows the LEA to retain custody for an additional 48 hours-excluding weekends and holidays- after local jurisdiction ends."

The IPC website says that just because an ICE detainer has been issued does not mean that the subject is an illegal immigrant or is deportable. "…ICE could erroneously issue a detainer for a U.S. citizen if there is an error in its database or if the individual's name is similar to someone else who is in the database," the website says.

Some other websites that appear to be designed specifically to sell the services of law firms that specialize in immigrant criminal matters say that some LEA's go so far as to include in their reports to ICE, recent arrests of people merely because they have "foreign sounding names."

The presence of an ICE detainer does not indicate anything except that the arrested individual may or may not be a national of a country other than the United States and that ICE may or may not have an immigration issue that they may or may not choose to pursue regarding the arrested individual(s).

But some courts have upheld the decisions of judges who based bail amounts or detention orders at least partially on the fact that a defendant has and ICE detainer against them.

Certainly, in the case of Lukas and Kenit, more information was presented by the prosecutors to the court than just the issuance of an ICE detainer. Lukas and Kenit have been detained at the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac pending trial which is set to begin on May 23, 2011.