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By Giff Johnson, editor, Marshall Islands Journal, and RNZ Pacific correspondent

Majuro Mayor Ladie Jack is raising the alarm about criminal behaviour involving Marshallese deported from the United States, saying the “impact of these deportees on our local community has been nothing short of devastating”.

Marshallese deported from the United States have been convicted over the past three years of a murder, a knife assault, and rape, while two additional assaults that occurred last month are under investigation.

In a letter to President Hilda Heine dated April 1 and obtained last Friday, the mayor is seeking significantly stepped-up action by the Marshall Islands national government on the issue of deportations.

“I urge you to explore viable solutions that prioritise the protection of our community while also addressing the underlying issues that contribute to the cycle of criminal behavior,” Mayor Jack said in his letter.

He called on the national government to “take proactive steps to address this pressing issue promptly and decisively”.

Mayor Jack included with his letter a local government police report on four individuals that the mayor said were deported from the US, all of whom committed violent assaults — three of which were committed in the rural Laura village area on Majuro, including two last month.

In the police report, two men aged 28 and 40, both listed as “deportees” are alleged to have assaulted different people in the rural Laura village area of Majuro in mid-March.

Five years for rape
Another deportee is currently serving five years for a rape in the Laura area in 2021.

A fourth deportee was noted as having been found guilty of aggravated assault for a knife attack on another Marshallese deported from the US in the downtown area of Majuro.

Another deportee was convicted last year and sentenced to 14 years in jail for the shooting murder of another deportee.

The national government’s cabinet recently established a Task Force on Deportations that is chaired by MP Marie Davis Milne.

She told the weekly Marshall Islands Journal last week that she anticipates the first meeting of the new task force this week.

The Marshall Islands is seeing an average close to 30 deportations each year of Marshallese from the US.

Mayor Jack called the “influx of deportees” from the US an issue of “utmost concern.” The mayor said “a significant number of them [are] engaging in serious criminal activities.”

With the Marshall Islands border closed for two-and-a-half-years due to covid in the 2020-2022, no deportations were accomplished by US law enforcement.

‘Moral turpitude’
But once the border opened in August 2022, US Homeland Security went back to its system of deporting Marshallese who are convicted of so-called crimes of “moral turpitude,” which can run the gamut of missing a court hearing for a traffic ticket and being the subject of an arrest warrant to murder and rape.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that in fiscal year 2023 — October 2022 to September 2023 — 28 Marshallese were deported. This number mirrors the average 27 per year deported from the US in the seven years pre-covid, 2013-2019.

Including the post-covid deportations, from 2013 to 2023, 236 Marshallese were deported from the US to Majuro. That 11-year period includes the two no-deportation years during covid.

In 2016 and 2018, deportations hit a record of 35 per year. In contrast, neighboring Federated States of Micronesia, which also has a Compact of Free Association with the US allowing visa-free entry, has seen deportations over 90 per year both pre-covid, and in FY2023, when 91 Micronesian citizens were removed from the US.

The Marshall Islands has never had any system in place for receiving people deported from the US — for mental health counseling, job training and placement, and other types of services that are routinely available in developed nations.

Task force first step
The appointment of a task force on deportations is the first government initiative to formally consider the deportation situation, which in light of steady out-migration to America can only be expected to escalate as a greater percentage of the Marshallese population takes up residence in the US.

“The behavior exhibited by these deportees has resulted in a wave of havoc across our community leading to a palpable sense of fear and unease among our citizens,” Mayor Jack said.

“Incidents of violent crimes, sexual assault and other illicit activities have increased exponentially, creating a pressing need for immediate intervention to address this critical issue.”

He called on the national government for a “comprehensive review of policies and procedures governing the admission and monitoring of deportees.”

Without action, the safety of local residents is jeopardised and the social fabric of the community is undermined, he added.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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