Majuro— Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine welcomed the recent arrest of county official in Arizona, who was charged in U.S. courts with human smuggling in connection with alleged sale of Marshallese children.
Paul Petersen, the elected county assessor of Arizona’s Maricopa County, was arrested and charged with a number of offenses in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas in relation to an alleged international adoption scheme, which involved soliciting unwitting young pregnant women into giving away their children in return for cash or tickets to the United States.
“Marshallese women have been induced by people like Petersen and his ilk for too long,” Heine said.
“Although I am happy that the government of the Marshall Islands, namely the Office of the Attorney-General, was able to provide assistance that led to these convictions, I believe there are other illegal adoption rings out there that must be stopped,” she added.
The charges against Petersen, also an adoption lawyer in Utah and Arizona, include communications fraud, human smuggling and the sale of a child. Investigation found that 28 Marshallese women were paid $1,000 per month, with food and transportation covered by Petersen.
Some of these women were even promised $10,000 to put up their unborn children for adoption. For adoptive families, they were charged up to $35,000 per adoption according to court documents.
The Compact of Free Association allows entry-free visas for Marshallese traveling to the United States while barring entry for adoption purposes.
“I would like to thank relevant government officials for their help, and Civil Beat for its persistence in keeping this crucial issue on the forefront,” Heine said.
From Aug. 13 to 16, representatives from the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney-General’s Office (Western District of Arkansas) and from the Utah Attorney-General’s Office were in Majuro to talk to Marshallese victims and witnesses of Petersen’s scheme.
The RMI Office of the Attorney-General and the Marshall Islands Police Department assisted them in this regard.
Pursuant to the Adoptions Act, 2002, international adoptions are allowed only in the Marshall Islands with the RMI High Court having original and exclusive jurisdiction to grant adoption of Marshallese children.