Central American Labor Rights and CAFTA on Lou Dobbs

Lou Dobbs Tonight

DOBBS: And why our government asked for a report on Central American Free Trade Agreement countries labor conditions and why they now refuse to release that report. We'll have that story next.

And one congressman who's introduced legislation to deny citizenship to so-called anchor babies, the children of illegal aliens, he's our guest here next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DOBBS: Congress next week may finally take up the Bush administration's next major free trade agreement proposal. But the so-called Central American Free Trade Agreement does not have much support in Congress. And now some lawmakers are, in fact, accusing the Labor Department of delaying the release of a report they believe to be highly critical of poor labor conditions in many of those Central American countries.

Lisa Sylvester has the story from Washington.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Central America's labor laws offer little protection from forced overtime, child labor and discrimination. And workers are often not guaranteed the right to associate and bargain. A report commissioned by the Labor Department in 2002 examined the problems in detail, but the Labor Department has yet to release the findings.

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: You start to wonder with the failure to release the report, whether it was critical on the issues concerning labor practices within these countries, and that it's being withheld either because they don't want the information made public or they are trying to massage the language of the report to make it look more favorable than it really is.

SYLVESTER: Congress will debate the Central American Free Trade Agreement next week. And a point of contention, the lack of labor standards in Central America. While CAFTA has protections for corporations, like intellectual property provisions, there are no guarantees for workers.

REP. SANDER LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: What it means is that the countries that have the worst practices have an economic advantage. And that's very difficult for us to compete with.

SYLVESTER: The Labor Department insists it has a good reason for delaying the report's release.

ARNOLD LEVINE, DEPT. OF LABOR: It doesn't meet the basic standards for rigorous research and analysis that we would expect a professional organization that is working on behalf of the department to submit.

SYLVESTER: The authors are willing to publish the report on their own, but the International Labor Rights Fund has not been able to get the clearance from the Labor Department.

BAMA ATHREYA, INTERNATIONAL LABOR RIGHTS FUND: The clearance process has taken somewhat longer than it took to do the studies in the first place at this point.


SYLVESTER: And late this afternoon, the Labor Department did make one concession. It will allow the authors to publish the report on their own. But it could be weeks before the International Labor Rights Fund receives the final OK -- Lou.

DOBBS: A final OK. This has been bought and paid for by the taxpayers at the behest of the Labor Department. Why in the world won't the Labor Department release it itself? It belongs to the U.S. government.

SYLVESTER: Well, one of the points that they are making is they said it was not the quality that they were hoping for. That when they got the results back -- and might I mention that this report cost somewhere in the neighborhood of around $980,000. But when they got this report back...

DOBBS: That's pretty close to a million bucks, isn't it.

SYLVESTER: Close. So it's quite an expensive report. But when they got the report back, they said -- at least this was their reasoning -- was that it was not of the caliber and the quality that they were looking for -- Lou.

DOBBS: Did they at any time let this organization that did the study know that before today?

SYLVESTER: No they didn't. And, as a matter of fact, that's one of the reasons why everyone has been saying that they have been stalling, because this process has actually been going on since 2003. And this is the first that we've heard of the official reason.

DOBBS: So this is just -- so this is just another silly bureaucratic game in Washington and obviously a political one, as well?

SYLVESTER: Well, it would certainly appear to be that way. And the fact that it could still be even more weeks, Lou, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

DOBBS: We never know when the games will end, or if in fact they ever will end. Lisa, thank you very much. Lisa Sylvester from Washington.

Coming up next here, should children born to illegal aliens in this country be entitled to automatic citizenship with all the rights and privileges that go with it? Why one leading congressman says absolutely no.

And the high cost of illegal immigration. Tonight, exploding population growth is threatening, in fact, our most precious natural resources. Who is in charge?

And I'll be talking with a leading authority on the papacy and the church about what he calls the unprecedented outpouring of affection for Pope John Paul II.

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