Discussions on Phase Out of CW Workers

October 23, 2015

In recent weeks Federal and CNMI officials have been issuing statements concerning the CW Program, which is scheduled to be phased out in three years.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services lowered the cap for fiscal year 2016 to 12,999, which is 1,000 fewer than the 2015 limit of 13,999. The CW Program started out in 2009 with a cap of 22,417, the number of workers that had been permitted by the CNMI prior to the extension of U.S. immigration law.

As 2019 approaches there is more talk of how the CNMI desperately needs to continue a 'special for us' foreign worker program to maintain a stable economy. The talk appears to center on repeating past mistakes. The solution most often spoken of is to pass legislation that would allow the CNMI to continue to cycle foreign workers in and out of the CNMI like dehumanized labor units.

If the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, P.L. 110-229, had been followed as intended there would be no need for this discussion. The stable workforce that the CNMI is forever seeking would have long been in place.

The CNRA passed in 2008, mandated that the Department of Interior prepare a report for Congress with a recommendation on the status of the CNMI's nonresidents. The 2010 DOI report stated:
"Consistent with the goals of comprehensive immigration reform, we recommend that the Congress consider permitting alien workers who have lawfully resided in the CNMI for a minimum period of five years to apply for long-term status under the immigration and nationality laws of the United States."
Had the Department of Interior, CNMI and Federal leaders acted in 2010 on that recommendation and pushed for legislation that would have granted the legal, long-term nonresidents a pathway to citizenship, this problem of a stable workforce would have been solved. A skilled and dedicated workforce would be in place today. Instead we hear the same phrases taken from the decades-long conversation of how to continue a program where foreign workers are regarded as replaceable, disposal labor units rather than as valued future citizens.

Governor Eloy Inos has called for 902 talks to discuss the deadline for the end of the CW Program, which will zero out foreign workers. From the Marianas Variety:
In his Oct. 2 letter to Obama, Inos expressed concern about the expiration in Dec. 2019 of the federal CW program that allows the islands to hire nonresident workers without going through the more expensive and restrictive H-visa process.
Has the governor considered that if all of the legal longtime foreign workers were granted green cards the cost to hire workers would be zero?

Esther Kia’aina, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas met with the governor earlier this month. She stated:
“DC is a lonely world,” Kia’aina said. “We cannot be your only advocates. …It’s critically important for the White House and other federal agencies to know the people and what the government of the Marianas is facing at this time.” 
“It is the transition to a tourism-driven economy, and the potential of proposed federal activities that have been of grave concern to the people. And it also includes the looming deadline of 2019—an absolute deadline. “Prior to last November, it was not absolute. You have an absolute deadline come Dec. 31 in 2019; the CW workers will be zeroed out. That should be, I think, on top of the mind for everybody.”
Why isn't Kia'aina pushing for a stable workforce; for green cards for the legal, long-term foreign workers who have been valuable, upstanding community members for decades? The Department of Insular Affairs may benefit by looking at the whole picture and listening to the voices of all of the people who have called the CNMI home over the last few turbulent decades.

The Saipan Tribune quoted Delegate Gregorio Sablan's press release:
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-Saipan), in a statement yesterday, said that lowering the CW cap is a “call for more U.S. workers,” noting that this means “employers must continue to find more ways to hire U.S. workers, if growth is to continue.
Since 2009 when the CW Program was initiated almost half of the private work force made up of the foreign workers who lived and worked in the CNMI for decades have left for greener pastures or returned to their homelands. The stress of the visa renewal process,  the uncertainty of job security, and the unlikely chance that they will ever get improved status has driven many foreign workers from the CNMI. Some of the luckier ones I keep in touch with have landed secure jobs in Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. mainland -all with a pathway to citizenship.

It is amazing that federal officials, leaders and policy makers continue to support the CNMI's mantra, "Poor us, we need help to keep a workforce made up of disenfranchised, foreign workers" when the solution is obvious. Give the legal, long-term foreign workers who make up the vast majority of the private workforce a pathway to citizenship.

Pope Francis To Congress: Accept Immigrants As Your Own

September 24, 2015

Pope Francis spoke to the U.S. Congress today asking them to welcome foreigners and immigrants. He said, "Most of us were once foreigners." There were cheers from the chambers.

His words must ring hollow on the ears of the mostly do-nothing members who have deliberately stalled any action on much needed immigration reform. Even Catholic members of Congress have made excuses for not passing legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and the legal, long term immigrants in the CNMI to finally be granted green cards.

From the transcript:

I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people. In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom.

We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.

Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

 Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

Ashamed To Be An American: Another Katrina Disaster Failure

September 8, 2015

Stories of typhoon aid being denied to Filipino and other foreign workers in the CNMI are heartbreaking. Typically the CW workers have the worst housing in the CNMI. Houses constructed of wood and tin, some with dirt floors, converted shipping containers and apartments with slanted floors and unstable stairways.

If the U.S. can provide visas to foreigners to work in the CNMI then shouldn't they provide aid to them in a disaster?  Take the CW workers out of the CNMI and the economy and tourist industries collapse. It is about time these people were recognized as long-term de facto citizens and given green cards. But right now these people who make up 90% of the private sector they need assistance.

The Marianas Variety covered a story about foreign worker Rolando Magdaraog who sought help from FEMA and was denied. The 52-year-old man has been in the CNMI  sixteen years and now sleeps in his car:
“We work hard, we follow the law and we pay taxes. But there was a typhoon and we are also victims of it. I know that the U.S. and the CNMI are generous to those who need help so I’m still hoping for humanitarian consideration. “If not, what can I do? I guess nothing. I just have to work harder and start all over again.”
There is absolutely no reason that anyone who loses their house in a storm is sleeping in a car. The reporters covering these stories should publicize the names of the landlords who are not making repairs to destroyed homes.

So where is the help for these people who built the CNMI, who keep the economy thriving? I will be making calls to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House today to see what aid can be given to the foreigners. I am ashamed of the way our country is handling this disaster.

Labor Day -Celebrating the Fight for Economic Justice and Workers' Rights

September 7, 2015

To many, Labor Day across the U.S. is less of a celebration this year. It is more of a mourning for what should be.

The state of U.S. workers has deteriorated, as the middle class is struggling to stay afloat in a sea of corporate greed, unfair working conditions and wages that are not even close to being a living wage.

The only hope I see for the future of American workers is our unions. I am proud to be a union member. This Labor Day and this year I am  standing with my union to fight for workers' rights, economic justice and immigration reform.

Unions role in securing fair wages cannot be disputed. Workers across our country enjoy many benefits and rights because of the hard work of the unions.

I take issue with self-serving politicians who attempt to silence workers by silencing unions.  Politicians like Chris Christie who said that he'd like "to punch the teacher's union in the face." Like Donald Trump who is engaged in union busting at his Las Vegas hotel. Like anti-union Governor Scott Walker. Like Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich. We must silence them at the polls to ensure economic justice, sick and family leave,  fair working conditions and a secure retirement for every person who works on U.S. soil.

CNMI Governor Eloy Inos Asks For Help for Foreign Workers

September 3, 2015

Kudos to Governor Eloy Inos for recognizing the need of the foreign workers who suffered losses in Saipan as a result of Typhoon Soudelor. He has asked CNMI Delegate Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan to request that the United Stated Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reconsider the status of the CW (foreign) workers so that they can be eligible for FEMA assistance.

In his letter to Delegate Sablan he stated:
“I thank you for your work diligence, cooperation, during this difficult time for our people. We have made much progress and with your assistance and counsel I believe we have developed an environment of cooperation between local, regional and federal partners” 
“In this spirit of partnership I want to convey to you some areas of need during this recovery stage. First, I know you are keenly aware of the ongoing situation of CW visa holders being ineligible for FEMA individual assistance funding. I am genuinely concerned over the lack of assistance being provided by our federal partners to the many families who are being denied the need they help solely because of their immigration status." 
 “While not widely known to much of the FEMA or USCIS policy makers, the CW program is an important part of our community and CW visa holders were not spared the damaging effects of Typhoon Soudelor. I formally request your assistance in reaching out to USCIS to authorize CW visa holders in the CNMI to receive the help they need to rebuild their lives.
It is encouraging that Governor Inos recognizes that the CWs and their families are an important part of the island community.

It will be interesting to see Sablan's response, and better yet what action he takes for the legal, long-term foreign workers and their families who are de facto citizens.

What could he do? He could introduce an emergency bill that would grant green cards and a pathway to citizenship to every legal, longterm foreign worker who has lived and worked in the CNMI for 5 or more year.

Over and over for two decades, members of the House and Senate and their staffers have told me that when it comes to insular affairs the committees go along with the recommendations of their nonvoting delegates. Let's see if he has the courage to do what is right.

Tinian Dynasty Closing

September 3, 2015

The Tinian Dynasty has announced once again that it is closing. Previous announcements were made in March 2014December 2014,  and again last month. CNMI politicians have expressed  concern about the CNMI's economy and the loss of 43 government jobs that are funded by revenue from the casino and hotel's operations.

No real mention or press coverage about the hundreds of foreign workers who are impacted. Many are still waiting to be paid back pay that they are owed.

Perhaps this is another strategical move by Hong Kong Entertainment to avoid paying penalties imposed by the U.S., or to avoid paying what is owed to cheated workers? It was mentioned that still another company, Tinian Entertainment Co. is waiting in the queue to take over the hotel and casino.

What role does the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission play in this latest episode in the Tinian Dynasty series?

Many CW Workers Not Eligible For FEMA

September 2, 2015

It is amazing that the United States Government can send millions in aid to the Philippines, Haiti, Thailand and other foreign governments to help foreign residents suffering from natural disasters, but cannot provide FEMA assistance to the LEGAL, LONGTERM foreign workers of the CNMI unless they have a U.S. citizen child.

FEMA officials referred the de facto citizens to private aid organizations.

If FEMA cannot help every foreign worker who makes up the majority of the private sector workforce, what United States agency will?

From the Marianas Variety:
“If they apply under the [U.S. citizen] child’s name, and Social Security number, they are covered. That child can be used as the head of household,” DeBlasio Sr. added. 
According to FEMA, it had confirmed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that CW workers “are not qualified aliens.” But if the CW worker has a minor child born in the CNMI, then their household is eligible for FEMA assistance. 
Citizens of FSM, Palau, and the Marshalls are also not eligible as they are neither U.S. citizens nor permanent residents. However, if they have children born in the CNMI, and therefore are U.S. citizens, then their household becomes eligible for FEMA assistance. 
“Not everyone who is living in CNMI and who was affected by the disaster will be eligible for FEMA assistance because there are laws that require FEMA’s compliance,” FEMA external affairs officer Veronica Verde said. 
She said FEMA is guided by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988 or Stafford Act and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. She said a person’s eligibility for FEMA assistance is contingent upon a number of factors “including, quite importantly, the applicant’s immigration status.”
Should we assume that FEMA officials, Stephen DeBlasio Sr. and Veronica Verede have contacted agencies within the U.S. to inform them that foreigners make up the majority of the CNMI's population and some other U.S. funding is needed for them?

CNMI Nonresidents May Seek Status Change Due to Typhoon Soudelor

August 7, 2015

USCIS Saipan office to reopen Monday with limited services
SAIPAN, CNMI — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today that the agency’s Application Support Center (ASC), located in the TSL Plaza Building, Beach South Road, Garapan, Saipan, will reopen on Monday, August 10, 2015.

ASC staffing will be reduced and services will be limited to scheduled biometric (fingerprint) appointments, scheduled InfoPass appointments, and emergency travel requests only. For all other purposes, appointments must be scheduled online via InfoPass by visiting www.USCIS.gov.

Those who had scheduled biometrics appointments during the week of August 3 through August 7, 2015, may come to the office on or after Monday, August 10, 2015, without an appointment.

Applicants who had been scheduled for interviews during the dates of August 3 through August 31, 2015, will receive a mailed cancelation notice and a rescheduled interview notice when normal operations resume.

Temporary Immigration Relief Measures Available for Individuals Affected by Typhoon Soudelor

On August 2, 2015, Typhoon Soudelor caused extensive damage in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). USCIS reminds customers affected by Typhoon Soudelor that certain U.S. immigration benefits or relief may be available to them.

USCIS understands that a natural disaster can affect an individual’s ability to maintain lawful immigration status or obtain certain other immigration benefits.

Eligible individuals may request or apply for temporary relief measures, including:

  • A change or extension of nonimmigrant status for an individual currently in the United States, even when the request is filed after the authorized period of admission has expired; 
  • Extension or re-parole of individuals previously granted parole by USCIS;
  • Expedited adjudication of employment authorization applications; 
  • and Assistance to Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) stranded overseas without immigration or travel documents, such as a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card). USCIS and the Department of State will coordinate on these matters when LPRs are stranded in a place that does not have a local USCIS office. 

USCIS may also exercise its discretion to allow for filing delays resulting from the typhoon.

This may include, for example:

  •  Assistance to those who have not appeared for an interview or submitted required forms of evidence. You may show how the typhoon prevented you from appearing or submitting documents as required; or 
  •  Assistance to those who have not been able to respond to a request for evidence (RFE) or notice of intent to deny (NOID). USCIS will extend the deadline for individuals to respond to RFEs or NOIDs by 30 days. This will apply to all RFEs and NOIDs with a deadline of August 2 through September 2, 2015. During this time, USCIS will not issue denials based on abandonment of an application or petition in the CNMI.

USCIS will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updated guidance as needed.

To learn how to request relief or more about how USCIS assists customers affected by unforeseen circumstances in their home country, visit uscis.gov/humanitarian/special-situations or call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 (TDD for the hearing impaired: 1-800-767-1833).

Please check back at uscis.gov for any additional information that may come later and follow us on Facebook ( /uscis ), Twitter ( @uscis ), YouTube ( /uscis ), and the USCIS blog The Beacon.

Please donate to the Red Cross and earmark your donation for Typhoon Soudelor victims.