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.

Saipan Residents Take Lead On Recovery

August 7, 2015

Video by Sveta Hunter Saipan residents need water and help!

Anyone following the news on the devastation of Typhoon Soudelor is astounded by the snail-like pace and lack of leadership of government officials.

Residents Glen Hunter, his wife Sveta and other residents have organized relief efforts in absence of government assistance and leadership. Those include getting water for the people who have been without running water for 6 days.

Sveta Hunter's video footage of the typhoon (embedded on a post below) has been broadcast by AP and U.S. news outlets. This is sure to get the U.S. citizens involved in donating money and supplies. These residents are heroes!

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

USCIS Saipan Office Closed Until Further Notice

NEWS RELEASE
 August 5, 2015

 USCIS Saipan office closed

 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 be closed until further notice as a result of Typhoon Soudelor.

Customers who had scheduled interviews should not report to the USCIS ASC office for their appointment. Instead, they will receive notification of their rescheduled interview date and time in the mail. Those who had InfoPass appointments should reschedule their appointments online at www.USCIS.gov, though it may be some time before appointments are available.

 USCIS customers can check the opening status of the Saipan USCIS Application Support Center by visiting the Office Closings page (http://www.uscis.gov/about-us/uscis-office-closings) of the USCIS website, or by calling the USCIS National Customer Service Center ( 1-800-375-5283).

Contact (media only): Tim Counts, USCIS Public Affairs Officer Office:

952-853-2827; cell: 952-232-7971; 
email Tim.Counts@dhs.gov 

 – USCIS –

Typhoon Leaves Hundreds Homeless In Saipan -Updated

August 5, 2015


  Video of Saipan Typhoon Soudelor Damage from YouTube by Sveta Hunter

The U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) was left in a state of devastation by Typhoon Soudelor that passed directly over the island of Saipan. After four days people are still without water power and adequate fuel. The Guam National Guard, the Guam Power Authority, Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 and the Coast Guard are reportedly providing assistance. FEMA was still waiting for the official CNMI Government request for emergency help before it could start distributing food, water and supplies.

Typhoon Soudelor left hundreds of people homeless or living in damaged homes on Saipan and in Tinian.  On Saipan about 500 individuals are living in schools and the Kagman Community Center, which are serving as shelters. The American Red Cross is providing meals and emergency needs.  The Salvation Army was also serving food at Hopwood Jr. High.

It was also reported that people with damaged houses are sleeping in cars and make-shift shelters.

A CUC press release states, "No timetable exists for the complete restoration of essential services in Saipan; however, customers should prepare for an extended power and water outage." The power plant was damaged and many power poles are downed. Trees blocking roadways make it more difficult to restore power. The island's only hospital is operating with generators.

Water stations have been set up on Saipan at Capitol Hill, Agag Reservoir and Kanat  Tabla. There is a 100 gallon limit per household per day. This is water for showers, toilets and to be boiled to wash dishes. It is not for consumption. Bleach should be added to the water for purification.

Gas lines continue to be long and gas and diesel fuel is being rationed at some stations. Fuel spills at the port of Saipan and shipping containers that were tossed about by waves still need to be cleaned up.

Damage at the Port of Saipan – U.S. Coast Guard photo.
Some daytime flights have been restored. There are no nighttime flights. Flights from some Chinese tourist cities have been suspended until August 15th.  There has been little news on the status of the tourists on the island.

My heart goes out to all of the people of Saipan and Tinian who were impacted by the typhoon. It is especially difficult for the nonresident workers who do not have family members in the CNMI to take them in or offer assistance. Nonresidents do not qualify for federal assistance programs such as food stamps, Medicaid or federal welfare programs, so they are especially vulnerable.

Some foreign workers cannot work because their employer's business was damaged or closed so they are also are suffering financial losses. If the business cannot reopen, the nonresident worker could also lose his/her immigration status.

Where is the news on the status of the situation on Tinian?
______________________
Hawaiians are collecting donations to the Hawaiian Salvation Army to open a soup kitchen in Saipan.  Donations can be made to the Red Cross and earmarked for Typhoon Soudelor victims.
______________________
August 6, 2015

President Obama finally declared the CNMI a major disaster. 
Victims can apply for disater assistance at WWW.DISASTERASSISTANCE.GOV OR APPLY THROUGH THE APP AT W.FEMA.GOV OR CALL A 24/7 TOLL FREE NUMBER 1-800-621-3362.


The U.S.S. Ashland filled with water, food, generators and supplies is set to arrive Friday from Guam. The marines on the ship will be helping with recovery.

The Multi-Purpose Center is serving as recovery center. If you have no transportation please call 644-COTA.

You can follow updates on the homepage of  U.S. Congressman Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan (CNMI-D) and on the Department of Energy website.

Saipan and Tinian Hit By Typhoon Soudelor - Updated

August 3, 2015


Saipan and Tinian suffered extensive damage from Typhoon Soudelor that passed over the islands late Sunday evening with reported maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour.  Residents reported winds were closer to Category 4 wind strengths. Some complained that they were not prepared for a storm of this strength.

Soudelor is expected to become a super typhoon before it moves towards Japan's southwestern islands late this week.  Soudelor is a Pohnpeian word meaning "chief" or "ruler."

Acting Governor Ralph Torres declared the islands in a "state of major disaster and significant emergency." FEMA sent an advance team and they are assessing the damage. It is likely that a federal state of disaster will be declared. Residents are urged to take photos of damage before they begin to clean-up.

On Saipan the main power plant was flooded and part of the roof was torn off. There is no power on the island. Over 100 power poles were downed. Water is also unavailable as electricity is needed for pumps.

The Coast Guard reported that flying debris broke a 120,000 gallon fuel storage tank and thousands of gallons of gasoline poured into a containment area. Another spill resulted in 500 gallons of diesel fuel spilling into the port of Saipan. Two large fishing ships and a charter boat came loose from their moorings and ran aground in Tanapag.

The seaport and airport are shut down. Residents are urged to stay off the roads.

Some roads are impassable, blocked by downed trees. Roofs were torn from buildings and cars were flipped upside down. At least 60 people received treatment at the hospital for minor injuries.  According to news reports about 400 people are in shelters after losing their houses from the storm. Some people waited over 3 hours for fuel for generators at gas stations.

A friend from Tinian said in an email that the typhoon caused extensive damage with trees downed and damage to buildings. There is no power and water on the island.

Guam's Lt. Governor is organizing two boot drives to assist typhoon victims. Donations can be made to the Red Cross and earmarked for Typhoon Soudelor victims.

More stories and photos of damage:
Huffington Post
ABC
Washington Post
Stuff.co.nz
KUAM
KATU.com

Tinian Dynasty's Despicable and Unethical Treatment of Employees

July 30, 2015

Customers who visit casinos know that they are about chance and luck. If they want to throw their money away for the unlikely chance that they will win a jackpot, that is their business. However, the casino's foreign employees should not have to play games of chance with their job security and immigration status. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to the foreign employees of Tinian Casino and Hotel who make up 95 percent of the company's workforce. They were unknowingly risking their jobs and immigration status.

Last week, the Tinian Dynasty Casino and Hotel agreed to pay $3.04 million in a non-forfeiture settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The U.S. Treasury fined the casino for $75 million for violations of money laundering policies. The settlement was not even 10% of the total fine. Perhaps HKE can use some of the millions that they saved by reaching a meager settlement agreement to make the employees that it scammed whole again.

The settlement agreement requires that the Tinian Dynasty be placed under a Supervision Period of three years where it must comply with laws. The agreement states that the Tinian Dynasty Casino must "Commit no crimes under the federal laws of the United States subsequent to the execution of this agreement."

Do these include labor laws? The business continues to fail to pay its employees in a timely manner. Furthermore, it has purposelessly defrauded and illegally terminated employees without consequences.

July 23, 2015 HKE/US Settlement Agreement:



The illegal activities of the casino and hotel, which included money laundering, falsification of records, and non-payment of employees' wages, was a primary reason that the USCIS listed for denial of renewal of foreign workers' CW-1 permits.  The USCIS determined that the business was not a 'legitimate' business because of illegal activities. No business deemed to be 'not legitimate' can hire foreign workers.

On July 26, 2013 USCIS send an Intent to Revoke notice to the Hong Kong Entertainment OVS INV LTD c/o the Tinian Hotel and Casino stating their their ability to hire foreign workers was in jeopardy. The letter cited the fact that the U.S. Department of labor fined them $191,400 for nonpayment of wages and overtime wages to employees. USCIS noted that the business regularly failed to pay employees in a timely manner. The letter stated that the fact that the business violated regulatory requirements means that they are not a legitimate business and cannot hire CW-1 workers. That letter and its message was concealed from the employees who had no idea that their status could change.

A letter dated December 8, 2014 the HKE received a letter from USCIS denying petitions based on illegal activity - multiple violations of the Bank Secrecy Act over the span of a four-year period. The letter also cited multiple violations of the casino in failing to file Currency Transaction Reports failure to file a Suspicious Activity Report and failure to maintain an effective money laundering program. The list of violations in the letter were based on the lawsuit filed by the U.S. against the casino and some of its top managers. The letter's message was concealed from employees.

Not until the Saipan newspapers and blogs wrote about the mass denial of CW-1 permits for Tinian Dynasty employees did the employees even know that their jobs were in jeopardy and their lives would drastically change. They were left without legal status to work and live in the CNMI, without jobs and facing a three-year bar to return to the CNMI to work.

In addition to numerous USCIS Notices of "Intent to Revoke", there were numerous other notices sent to the employer from USCIS. USCIS "Notices of Intent to Deny" dated October 30, 2012, December 18, 2012, June 26, 2013, February 5, 2014 and July 2, 2014 were issued to HKE, but were not disclosed to the employees. The notices stated that employees' CW-1 petitions were denied.
(Link to files)

The business blatantly disregarded the well-being of its employees by purposely and maliciously allowing foreign workers to think that their CW-1 visas were being processed. Never did Tinian Dynasty warn their employees that their status was in  jeopardy. If they had, the workers could have taken steps to maintain legal status, such as transferring to a legitimate employer. They were purposely denied this opportunity because the self-serving employer wanted to keep its doors open to profit off of their backs.

The Tinian Dynasty Casino and Hotel knew that the employees depended on them to process their CW-1 permits to keep their status legal. They also knew that the employees earn such low wages that they are unlikely to be able to pursue a case against them, unlikely to be able to afford a ticket to their homelands, unlikely to be able to get help since they are isolated on far-away island.

Odds Stacked Against the Foreign Worker
The Tinian Dynasty and other CNMI employers have taken advantage of the fact that USCIS reports the status of CW-1 annual renewals only to the employer. USCIS fails to send duplicate updates or notices to the employee. This system makes no sense. It allows any unscrupulous employer to take advantage of the employee's ignorance as to the status of their own permit. This procedure must be changed so that USCIS must notify both the employer and the employee concerning the processing of permits.

Also convenient for this and other unscrupulous employers, is the fact that the only source of free assistance for foreign workers, the Federal Ombudsman Office was closed by the U.S. Government. The office offered proactive, free assistance to foreign workers and was one of the busiest offices in the CNMI. The closure has had severe detrimental consequences for the many indigent foreign workers since there us no other non governmental agency in existence in the CNMI where the abused can seek justice.

Foreign workers who are employed by any business in the CNMI are taking a risk and playing a game of chance because of the callous attitude exhibited towards the foreign workers and the broken immigration system. Too often they are regarded as disposable, replaceable labor units rather than as human beings by businesses and the government. This is a system ripe for reform.

Throughout the years, the Tinian Dynasty Casino and Hotel has earned the rank at the top of the list of the CNMI's most despicable and unethical employers. The Tinian Dynasty's foreign workers past and present who have been scammed and cheated by their employer deserve justice and legal status and should be made whole.

More to follow

Not Your Typical Undocumented Immigrants - The Victims of the Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino

July 28, 2015

Tinian Dynasty, Photo by W. L. Doromal ©2008
Every day in the U.S. we hear people bash undocumented immigrants. From racist presidential candidates headlining the evening news to strangers standing behind you in groceries store lines, none of us can escape a day without hearing someone flippantly put down our country's undocumented immigrants.  Most of the haters have not even met or spoken to any of those people who have entered the U.S. without proper papers seeking a better future or those who have overstayed their visas.  There is a nasty de-humanizing undertone to most of the stories or conversations about "illegal aliens" that invade our ear space.

What we do not hear every day are stories about those who are innocently forced out of status by their own employers –– those unfortunate victims scammed by money-grabbing business owners who care only about their profits and care nothing about the foreign workers who they employ to make their profits. The Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino in Tinian, U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is one such employer.

The Tinian Dynasty has been known for decades for its abuse of foreign workers, including discrimination, unpaid wages, and fraudulent documents.  The foreign workers have been treated like disposable labor units and clearly deserve to be made whole for enduring labor abuses that resulted in extreme suffering as outlined in their amended complaint of July 21, 2015.

The defendants who are former and/or current employees are suing the Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino, Hong Kong Entertainment (Overseas) Investments, Ltd., and Mega Stars Overseas Limited for fraudulent concealment, negligent misrepresentation, wrongful termination and other related causes of action with respect to the denial of approximately 196 CW-l petitions affecting approximately 520 workers by United States Citizenship and Naturalization Services (“USCIS”) on December 8, 2014.

According to the complaint over 95% of the employees of the Tinian Dynasty were foreign workers on one-year contracts authorized by USCIS.

The Tinian Dynasty employers received numerous notices from USCIS stating that employees' CW-1 permits were in jeopardy of being denied as far back as18 months before USCIS actually denied them.  The employers knew that the foreign workers' job were in jeopardy, but the foreign workers did not.

Obviously, the policies need to be rewritten. USCIS should inform both the employer and the foreign worker if the renewal of a permit is to be revoked or terminated. In not doing so it suggests that USCIS also regards foreign workers as labor units rather than human beings.

The complaint outlines numerous lies that the defendants used to entice the foreign workers to stay, disregarding the workers' best interests. The complaint states that Hong Kong Entertainment (Overseas) Investment, Ltd. (HKE) deliberately deceived the foreign workers in the following ways outlined in the complaint:
  • "Deliberately withheld such information from the plaintiffs out of fear they would stop working and transfer to new employers which would have effectively shut down business operations and ultimately cost the Tinian Dynasty a significant amount of money."
  • "Lied to workers about their legal status by falsely claiming they were still legally authorized to work notwithstanding the USCIS denial of their CW-l petitions in a self-interested effort to keep the Tinian Dynasty fully staffed during a particularly critical period of time where defendant HKE was seeking to sublease its gaming and hotel interests to a foreign corporation called “Gain Millennia Limited”. 
  •  "Falsely told workers via letter dated January 19, 2015 that USCIS regulations allowed employees with denied CW-1 petitions to continue working so long as an administrative appeal was pending. According to the January 19, 2015 letter, any worker who “disagreed” with defendant HKE’ s claim that it was “not unlawful” to return to work would be deemed to have “resigned” his/her job and processed out of the company. Additionally, defendant HKE threatened to remove any worker deemed to have “resigned” from the pending administrative appeal filed with the USCIS." 
  • "At the time of this statement, defendant HKE knew that federal immigration regulations prohibited a CW-l worker from continuing employment once his/her CW-1 petition was formally denied. Notwithstanding this fact, defendant HKE threatened to constructively terminate any worker who failed to report to work by Wednesday, January 21, 2015 based on the disingenuous premise that working without legal authorization was “not unlawful”.
  • "Defendant HKE’s use of such heavy handed tactics to bully employees back to work places the plaintiffs in the impossible position where they must choose between a) being fired for not  “agreeing” to work illegally and b) working illegally and risk getting deported for violating their status as well as jeopardizing their chances of obtaining future status." 
  • "On January 30, 2015, defendant HKE issued a letter to each of the named plaintiffs constructively terminating their respective employment for their refusal to return to work without proper USCIS authorization."
  • "In the January 30, 2015 letter, defendant HKE disingenuously claimed that plaintiffs had “resigned” their positions even though none of the plaintiffs had done so."
  • "According to the defendant HKE, plaintiffs were deemed to have “resigned” their  positions solely by the fact they refused to return to work even though their refusal to return to work was because the USCIS had denied their underlying CW-1 petition." 
  • "In the same letter, defendant HKE also followed through on its prior threats and 14 vindictively removed plaintiffs from the pending administrative appeal filed with the USCIS as 15 punishment for their refusal to work illegally."
Exhibits A - C support the complaint and verify that the defendant deliberately lied to the plaintiffs. See: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and Exhibit C.

Defendant Mega Stars also knowingly lied to the plaintiffs. From the complaint:
  • On January 12, 2015, the Chairman of defendant Mega Stars sent the plaintiffs a letter urging all workers to put their “fears aside” and concentrate on the upcoming Baccarat Tournament and Poker Tournament as well as the “very busy Chinese New Year”.
  • According to defendant Mega Stars, plaintiffs should “not be afraid to report for duty as usual” because “in the United States, courts recognize that the immigration laws do not provide for criminal punishment for non-United States citizens who are determined not to have the authorization to work. According to defendant Mega Stars, it would be the employer and not the employee who would be subject to criminal punishment if the plaintiffs returned to work without legal authorization. 
  •  However, defendant Mega Stars conspicuously failed to mention to the plaintiffs the serious immigration consequences that would occur if they worked without legal authorization. Specifically, defendant Mega Stars failed to disclose to the plaintiffs that working without proper legal authorization could subject plaintiffs to deportation as well as disqualification from obtaining future immigration benefits such as adjustment of status or other work related status including a CW-l.
Exhibit D
As a result of the employers' lies these innocent employees have suffered extreme harm. With total disregard to the foreign workers' welfare and the human cost, the employers' corrupt and greedy acts have had a devastating impact on the lives of the foreign workers and their families. As the complaint states the plaintiffs innocently followed the orders of their employers. As a result they have lost the right to live and work in the CNMI, a place that they call home, a place where they have been legal, outstanding law-abiding citizens for years.

More stories will follow.

Below is the amended complaint:

Proud to be an American

July 17, 2015


Over 100 people from Angola to Zimbabwe took the oath of citizenship today in Florida. Boboy's sweet and adorable mom, Clarita was one of them!


The ceremony was far more impressive than the simple one Boboy participated in 20 years earlier.  Each individual stood when their country was read from the long list of names of the countries that they represented. There was moving speech with the new citizens waving their flags and cheering, a video message from President Obama, and music from our national anthem to Lee Greenwood's, Proud to Be An American. Every participant was registered to vote.

It was hard to realize that the individuals leading the ceremony were not professional actors, but were USCIS officials. They rocked!

The best part of the event was the pride and joy that overflowed from the room. Boboy's mom told us how she got every question on the citizenship test correct. That's not an easy feat. I give that test to my students every year as an introduction to a unit on immigration. Most score horribly. Not Clarita - she rattled off the questions and answers. She told us how the official smiled as she sang The Star Spangled Banner to him. 

Family and friends took photos of the ceremony and event. Some who were unaccompanied handed me their cell phones to take their photos. All were the same –broad smiles and tears of joy as they held up the American flag.

For too much of the time I am am angry at my country. Angry that the elected officials do not understand how student loans are burying our young people under mountains of debt; how millions of us work many overtime hours and are not being paid for them; how politicians are destroying our public schools; how our broken immigration system is hurting families and our nation; and on and on. I cannot remember the last time I was actually proud to be an American. Today I was.