SHELBY: Good. How did it become near and dear to your heart, Jim?
GELBMANN: I actually one night I received a phone call from a parent in the Norwood Young America area. Ah, somehow she got my cell phone number. And, well, didn’t have any resources at my hand, but she was very fran –frantic, she was not only a parent, she was a teacher at Norwood Young America, and she told me a story about a specific uh, boy, who was from – or young adult I should say, who was from Norway, and um, was having a horrible experience in a foreign exchange program, a specific foreign exchange program. The boy was initially placed in one home that… after I did some research and checking, the Norwood, — The Carver County Sheriff Department, one of the deputies there said that the home that this boy was placed in, in the family was in dire final trouble and the home was in disrepair and he did not feel it was a home that was suitable for placement of a foreign exchange student. Ah, the boy was taken out of that home and then taken to one of the coordinators houses uh for the specific program, and which is actually against US law; for a coordinator to actually host a foreign exchange student that she is a coordinator for. Uh, the more I investigated, the more concerned I became abut this specific organization. And I found out that this was not an isolated incident that this appeared to be a systemic problem with a number of school districts. Um, I received complaints from a number of Wright – Wright County school districts, Montecello, uh, Waverly, um… Buffalo I know has terminated their involvement with this specific program and I started to look to see what we could do about it. Um, and at that time when I look at Minnesota law, the law and I’ll read it to you said, «The Secretary of State may upon receipt of a complaint regarding an international student exchange organization, report the matter to the organization involved, the United States Information Agency or the Council on Standards for International Education Travel as the Secretary of State as considers appropriate.
SHELBY: — only — only requiring the Secretary of State to report, — but take no action —
GELBMANN: … and it’s not required to report, it just says may report.
SHELBY: May report, we have to be careful about this shall report and may report are two different things entirely. So it looks like somebody along the line in the state legislature had come up with an idea or whether it was the Secretary of State that promulgated a resolution that got into the state legislature that someone had some concerns, but it appears that without your help and without the help of the legislature now, that there is no affirmative action that could be taken by the Secretary of State. Uh, what do you hope to accomplish? What would the Secretary of State do if they run into situations like you have discovered not only this one case, but the many others that have come to your attention since then? And let me just for the record, is it CETUSA is this organization? —
GELBMANN: That is correct.
SHELBY: Ok, alright. And I just want to make sure that people understand what CETUSA is, if you hear from them for instance. It’s the Council for Educational Travel USA, the Council for Educational Travel USA, and currently these people have our eyebrows raised about what there are going on and whether there are home visits and whether these individuals who are taking on foreign exchange students are actually fit to do so. What would your legislation produce?
GELBMANN: Well, Don, actually, I have some very good news. We did bring the legislation, that was Mark Ritchie, who brought the legislation after my initial investigations finding that this issue was more systemic than it was an isolated incident. We brought it to the legislature and it was very late in the legislative session, it was passed all committee deadlines and the like, but I talked to Representative Phyllis Kahn and told her about the problem. I showed her a letter that I received from a foreign exchange student, a different foreign exchange student who actually was experiencing sexual abuse by her uh family that she was initially placed with who at least in her opinion it was sex abuse. And Phyllis Kahn was willing to place it in what what was called a State Government Omnibus Bill. Language that would, first of all have had to first of all, o change the name of the report the United States Information Agency no longer exists –
SHELBY: Right, the USIA is gone.
GELBMANN: That is correct. It is the — the responsibilities have been transferred to the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation in the United States Department of State, so we had to change that reference. But then the most important change we received is we received the language that says that the Secretary may also investigate complaints received under this section to determine if the complaint is limited to one high school or if there are systematic problems with placements made by a particular organization. The Secretary of State may terminate and organization’s registration —
SHELBY: There you go –
GELBMANN: — if the Secretary determines the organization has failed to remain in compliance with local, state and federal statutes, rules and regulations.
SHELBY: How soon will you take advantage of this once it is completely signed, sealed and delivered — to take action?
GELBMANN: Well, it became effective July 1.
SHELBY: Signed by the Governor?
GELBMANN: Signed by the Governor.
SHELBY: Alright, good, so, now how many agents do you have to hire to try to get all of this done?
GELBMANN: Well, as you know, we are in a budget crises.
SHELBY: I do know that —
GELBMANN: Unfortunately, we weren’t given any additional funds to take this out and carry this legislation out. But I assured the legislature in front of the committee, I said, even if I have to work over time I don’t want people leaving Minnesota going back to their home country with a negative impression of our state —
SHELBY: You and I agree –
GELBMANN: — Or, worse yet, horrible experience you know within our state I want them to go back and talk about the wonderful experience they had. I wrote back to this one foreign exchange student that wrote this letter to me and I… you know, I said to her I said this should have been the best year of your life, the best year of your educational life I was would hope would have been in Minnesota would have been your high school senior year, and I really regret it and I was very apologetic that it was not the best year of her life. It was uh, traumatic year for her. And I didn’t want that to happen again. And, so, um, again, I’m working right now with CETUSA. Um, one part of the problem, if we totally revoke their license, there’s a lot of foreign exchange students that have made plans through CETUSA to come to Minnesota um, I just want to make sure…I use this legislation more as a club than actually revoking registrations.
SHELBY: Understood. You’re a good man, Jim Gelbmann. Jim Gelbmann is Deputy Secretary of State and he has worked tirelessly to try to get the state to change its regulations, policies and laws regarding the foreign exchange student program in the state of Minnesota. And there has been a company CETUSA, C-E-T-U-S-A and you may see that from time to time you might even get some queries from the Council for Educational Travel USA. Back in the day when I was in high school, there was nothing more fabulous than foreign exchange students coming in an bring their knowledge of their own country and telling us about that and then learning about America and helping us teach. And then I’ve run into some of them in later years and they would say it was the greatest experience I’ve ever had in my life. Here in Minnesota, we are the host to lots of them because we’re a very open state and we want to be a part of that process but it doesn’t always turn out well because the companies that are looking for these families apparently, apparently, are not doing a very good job of screening them, we’ve got lists, and lists and lists if you’ve been listening to the program, we’re talking about sex abuse, we talking pornography, we talking about convicts, we’re talking about taking of money from these individuals, that is not the kind of impression that I as an American want to leave on a young person, or any person whatsoever who comes to our country to visit and then goes back home and says they never want to go back to that place again; they’re terrible, terrible people Jim Gelbmann and I agree on that sort of soft element of that legislation. The hard element of course is making sure that these companies don’t have a right to operate if they’re not doing it right in this state of Minnesota. The good news is that Jim has told us, it has been signed by the Governor which is now a matter of law in the state of Minnesota. As you looked around, you said you began investigating one case, but then you soon realized there were a lot more cases out there. Can you talk about a few of those?
GELBAMANN: Sure, Don. Probably the most common problem that happened with the CETUSA organization in multiple high schools throughout the state is that they would bring more students over to Minnesota than they had families to place them in. And, again, that is against the federal regulations, as well. Federal law requires the organization to have us signed contract with a host family one month before the student arrives in the States. And what would regularly happen is CETUSA would have three or four host families signed up for a specific school and five or six students would be bought over, and then CETUSA would frantically search for host families for the students. In one case that was documented actually WCCO TV a number of years ago, I think back in 2006 um, one CETUSA organization uh, uh, coordinator had six students student living in her basement, had six foreign exchange students living in her basement because she couldn’t find host families for them —
SHELBY: And that is violation of law –
GELBMANN: And that is a violation of law right then and there.
SHELBY: Okay now, let me ask you, do the host families, are they paid by CETUSA?
GELBMANN: No, they are not. They are volunteer families that want to you know, bring in a student give a student a good opportunity to see what America is like and also for the host families the to learn about the culture that the, of the country that the student comes from.
SHELBY: I am sometimes given to overstate hyperbally, but this seems to be that that all the money is ending up in CETUSA’s hands, their dumping these kids without uh, doing the due diligence of finding good families that are willing to take them. And I’m willing to call this human trafficking. Some people have called it, as we just talked to Danielle Grijalva, Grijalva, the director and founder of the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, who said it’s, one senator called it a Puppy Mill. And, uh, is there any action can be taken other than regulatory uh, against these companies when they are found to have failed in their process, is this misfeasants, malfeasants or is it nonfeasants?
GELBMANN: Uh, again, I’m not an attorney so I wouldn’t know which category it falls into, but what I do know is that Minnesota now has the authority that if they violate state, federal or local law, and there’s very explicit federal laws governing how foreign exchange programs work, if they violate those laws, we have the authority to revoke their registration. And in Minnesota, if uh, a foreign exchange program is not registered with
the Secretary of State’s office, the Department of Education will not pay the per student aide uh, formula to that school district. So, basically, it will end their involvement with Minnesota school districts in Minnesota because Minnesota school districts again will need that additional aide when they accept these students from around the world.
SHELBY: I think I know my audience well enough to say that I speak for them in this particular case, to say, go ’em Jim Gelbmann. Don’t let ’em get away with this and protect our reputation and protect the children. And uh, thank you for fighting for this legislation, and I appreciate you being on the program with us today, Jim.
GELBMANN: Well, thank you, Don. And I assure you that uh this issue is very close and near and dear to my heart —
SHELBY: — I know it is.
GELBMANN: — and I’m going to take uh the responsibility that the legislature has given us very seriously.
SHELBY: I appreciate it, Jim, thank you very much for being with us. GELBMANN: Thank you, Don.
SHELBY: Okay, bye bye, Jim Gelbmann, Deputy to the Secretary of State.
2009 May 17: When a foreign exchange year goes bad
2012 Jan 14: Mitt amerikanske mareritt (Espen Hansen)