Under the law, U.S. citizens must make up 75 percent of the crew on most commercial fishing vessels in America. But influential lawmakers, including the late Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, pushed for a loophole to support one of the state's biggest industries. It exempted commercial fishing boat owners from federal rules enforced almost everywhere else.
Hundreds of undocumented men are employed in this unique U.S. fishing fleet, due to a federal loophole that allows them to work but exempts them from most basic labor protections. Many come from impoverished Southeast Asian and Pacific nations to take the dangerous jobs, which can pay as little as 70 cents an hour.
With no legal standing on U.S. soil, the men are at the mercy of their American captains on American-flagged, American-owned vessels, catching prized swordfish and ahi tuna. Since they don't have visas, they are not allowed to set foot on shore. The entire system, which contradicts other state and federal laws, operates with the blessing of high-ranking U.S. lawmakers and officials, an Associated Press investigation found.
these crew members aren't even allowed to land at the airport in Honolulu.
As a result, the men are first put on planes at home, and then hopscotched from country to country across thousands of miles. A typical route could go from Indonesia to Australia to Fiji to Western Samoa to American Samoa. Some pass through Amsterdam. Others end up in Mexico or Panama. They're then picked up by American captains for the 10- to 20-day sail to Honolulu.
Some fishermen have even been made to leap into the sea. In one video shown to AP, men swam from one boat to another through tossing waves, clutching their belongings in plastic bags.
It used to be easier. Before Sept. 11, the men came on planes. But the terror attacks spurred a national crackdown on foreigners entering the country. As an unintended consequence, the workers now reach U.S. docks with minimal government vetting, creating greater security risks.