Expect Action on Immigration Reform With or Without Congress

August 13, 2014

A Fox News poll revealed that 65% of voters would select immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship over Congress doing nothing. The stand was bipartisan with 76 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents and 56 percent of Republicans agreeing that a pathway to citizenship was better than Congress taking no action at all. Even 49 percent of Tea Party members voters to support a pathway to citizenship over 34 percent who said Congress should do nothing.

Now if only the members of Congress could get the message and act. Right now most are enjoying another long recess to campaign, vacation or take part in a summer junket funded by tax payers.

Meanwhile everyone is waiting for President Obama to take promised executive action on immigration reform since the do nothing Congress continues to do nothing.

A report by American Bridge, a progressive research and communications organization, makes the argument that the president should act now by using executive powers to stop deportations and end the crisis at the borders.

The report provides a timeline of past presidential executive orders, details Republican obstructionist actions and makes the case for President Obama to use executive powers to address immigration reform issues.

Read the report:

MILE CNMI: A Voice for the Voiceless

August 6, 2014

Political voice is essential in any true democracy. The greatest movements in our nation's history sprang forth because of denial of political voice.
The American Revolution, the Abolition Movement, the Women's Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Movement and today's Immigration Rights Movement all sprang forth because of the denial of the democratic principles of equality, freedom, representation and political voice.

That said, the CNMI is probably the most undemocratic place on U.S. soil. Over 10,000 foreign contract workers have been denied a political voice for years and decades. The vast majority have lived and worked legally in the CNMI for over five years; many for ten, 20, 30 or more years. They are de facto citizens.  They are the fuel of the islands' economy who have provided their skills and contributions to the people of the CNMI for most of their adult lives, for decades, for generations now.

Despite their legal longevity as nonresidents in the CNMI, most  have never been granted U.S. immigration status because of laws meant to maintain them as the voiceless, disenfranchised underclass. Unless they have  a U.S. citizen spouse or children who can sponsor them for permanent residency status now or when their children reach age 21, they have little chance of being put on a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

It is therefore, encouraging to see that the children of the nonresident workers are uniting to be a voice for themselves, their parents and the voiceless majority of the CNMI. They have formed a group called MILE (Maximum Impact Leading Excellence) CNMI, which will be meeting with the islands' political candidates, educating young voters and registering voters.

The Marianas Variety reported:
The group, according to the member who declined to be identified, will “promote the common good for a better future for everyone.” 
They want to have a “maximum impact” on the island. 
“We also aim for excellence in helping others in the community.”
Members of the nonprofit met with Governor Eloy Inos and will be meeting with gubernatorial candidate Heinz Hofschneider and his running mate, Senator Ray Yumul next week.

The people of the CNMI would do well to remember that the harder a group is kept down, the more it will advance when finally released.

More power to MILE CNMI!

Executive Order on Immigration Reform Before November Elections

July 26, 2014

President Obama is expected to use executive power on immigration issues before the mid-term elections in November. Reports state that he will provide temporary legal status to millions of undocumented aliens.

Republican leaders have blocked immigration reform legislation from being heard in the House. Speaker John Boehner said that the House will not vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year.

Time reports:
The most aggressive option in this category would be expanding deferred action to anyone who could have gained legal status under the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in June 2013. 
According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, the Senate bill would have covered up to 8 million undocumented immigrants. It is unlikely that Obama goes that far. But even more modest steps could provide relief to a population numbering in the seven figures. 
“You can get to big numbers very quickly,” says Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.
Rep.Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) who met with the President last week was quoted in the Los Angles Times:
"We sat down with the president... and we said to him, 'Mr. President, we want you to be as generous and broad and wise as the Republicans have been small and mean-spirited."
Republicans have served as obstructionists in the immigration debate for years. Most block comprehensive immigration reform for two reasons – to please extreme right-wind conservatives who are against reform (even though polls show the majority of Americans support it) and to block anything that President Obama and the Democrats support.

Adding to the debate has been the recent influx of undocumented children pouring over the borders to flee abusive situations in their Central American. countries.  This is a human rights issue as much as it is an immigration issue. Children should not be deported back to unstable countries to face suffering or death.

I hope President Obama steps up and uses executive orders to do as much as is legally possible. The U.S. Congress has failed to effectively serve the people of the United States for years. It is past time to take action, especially for the legal, longterm nonresidents of the CNMI.

Racist Marianas Descent Corporation Gets $100,000 from CNMI Government

July 22, 2014

CNMI Governor Eloy Inos sat on a controversial
appropriations bill that included awarding the xenophobic Northern Marianas Descent Corp. $100,000. Any appropriations bill not signed into law within 20 days passes. Such a cowardly move.

House Local Bill 18-45 appropriated $1 million in Managaha landing fees. The bulk of the money, $800,000, will be used for land compensation; $100,000 will go to the NMI Museum of History and Culture; and $100,000 will go to the Northern Marianas Descent Corp.

It was Saipan Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro who added an amendment to the bill appropriating $100,000 to the Northern Marianas Descent Corp.

Ogumoro is an outspoken leader of the racist group.

In recent months this group has spearheaded racist political attacks on foreign workers, opposed U.S. immigration bills granting status to the CNMI's legal nonresidents, and opposed allowing citizens not of NMI descent to vote on Article 12 initiatives.

So many questions. What are the funds to be used for? Why should this non-profit receive funding when the CNMI Government owes money to CUC and cannot even properly fund the public schools? What other non-profits are funded by the CNMI Government?

The CNMI Government already funds an Indigenous Affairs Office and a Carolinian Affairs Office. Now it will fund a nonprofit that actually is a politically motivated hate group?

It will be interesting to see what the people think of this sleazy scheme. It is oh so Fitial-ish.

Passing of a Hero

July 17, 2014

Phil Kaplan (second from the right) with members of the 1998
Clinton Administration Task Force and foreign workers who testified
at the 1998 Senate Hearing.
Very sad news. Worker advocate Phil Kaplan passed away Saturday, July 12, 2014 after suffering from renal cancer. Phil was a selfless and generous person who tirelessly supported justice and labor and human rights. He was a friend to every one who crossed his path. He worked for over 20 years as an under-paid lobbyist for the indigent in Washington State before moving to Saipan.

Phil was a devoted advocate for the CNMI's foreign workers. He served as the human rights advocate for the Catholic Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, Saipan in the early 1990s. He assisted dozens of foreign workers on Saipan and Rota.

Many times Phil flew to Rota to support our efforts to help the foreign workers seek justice from abusive employers. On several trips he brought some of the workers back to Saipan so they could seek help from law enforcement officials there. He often paid their legal fees. He provided them with food, found them shelter and watched over them.

In 1994, after months of attacks and threatening phone calls, Phil and an employee of the Governor Tenorio's office hired a body guard to stay with our family. Phil was with our family on the last night we spent in Rota. He brought a turkey and cooked dinner for us and some of our closest Chamorro and Filipino friends. His famous "green sage turkey" recipe was shared many times at our table in Florida when Phil and his beloved wife, Celia visited us.

Phil was Uncle Phil to our children. When we lived on Saipan every weekend he took them bowling, to the beach or to the movies to entertain them. After we moved to Florida, Phil found the bowling lanes and spent afternoons bowling with the kids during every visit.

Phil served as a member of the seven-member team of human rights advocates and attorneys that was contracted by the Clinton Administration in 1998 to investigate and report upon the conditions of the foreign contract workers. After the investigation five foreign workers from Saipan were called upon to testify at a U.S. Senate Hearing. Four of the five individuals were given  asylum in the United States. Phil generously took three of them back to his hometown of Seattle where he and Celia took them under their wings helping them to acclimate, find jobs and start their new lives.

Phil's humility hid the fact that he was truly one of the rare unsung heroes.

I remember Phil for his warmth, genuine kindness and pure heart. One of his most repeated comments was, "Life is good!" Every time I hear that phrase I think of Phil.

We are of course heartbroken by this news, as are many of the workers whose lives he touched. We are grateful to have had such a kind and loving person in our lives. He was an earthly guardian angel to thousands. Rest in peace, dear Phil.

Nani's sketch


What is Justice?

July 6, 2014

From The Saipan Tribune, by Jayson Camacho
What more appropriate time to discuss liberation, justice and freedom than the CNMI's Liberation Day Parade?

An alien worker carried a sign that read, "Alien worker we deserve improved status" on one side of the sign and "Justice" on the other. Improved status and justice have been denied the legal, long term foreign workers for decades. Good for him!

But, apparently the foreign worker who wore shackles and chains while carrying the sign calling for improved status hit some nerves among at least one CNMI politician. U.S. Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan was quoted by The Saipan Tribune as criticizing the man:
Sablan said the depiction is “false” because no one is being forced to remain in the CNMI. He said the depiction would hurt rather than help the cause of long-term foreign workers for an improved immigration status. 
“Every individual here has the right to free expression, that’s protection [provided for by] both the U.S. and NMI Constitutions. I think it’s an appropriate display of a statement that is false. No one in the Northern Mariana Islands—whether you are a United States citizen or a citizen of a third country—are in shackles here. No one here is being forced to remain here, so that was a wrong message,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune. 
Sablan, who ensured that national immigration reform bills would have provisions giving an opportunity for qualified long-term legal aliens to apply for “green card” which is pathway to U.S. citizenship, said it’s “unfortunate” that someone would resort to a misleading and false depiction of nonresidents’ situations in the CNMI. “Not the sign, but the fact that’s he in chain and lock. That doesn’t help. It hurts him rather that it helps him. Just untrue and it doesn’t help to advance the conversation on the matter. Unfortunately, he’s wrong,” the delegate added. 
As for the word “justice” on the placard, Sablan asked, “Justice before the court? Justice for what? No one here is under any restraint to stay here. Everyone is free. They can get up and leave any time they want to.”
I disagree with Sablan. I think the man's depiction is accurate and courageous. Shackles and chains can represent many things. Chained and shackled to a disenfranchised status, for instance. How long have foreigners in the CNMI been chained to the nonresident worker status; been disenfranchised; been denied of basic rights; been forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops to travel to see their own families? Years? Decades?

While no one is "forced" to stay in the CNMI, as the delegate stated, many thousands of the CNMI's legal long term foreign workers have spent their entire adult lives working in the CNMI, positively contributing to the community and bolstering the economy. They stay with the hope that one day the U.S. Congress will do the right thing and they will finally be granted the improved status that they deserve! They stay because they no longer have a "home" to return to! They stay because there are more opportunities for their U.S. citizen children.

The delegate thinks the lock and chains are "just untrue". I think they are spot on!

The delegate also misunderstood the protester's call for "justice":
 He said, "As for the word “justice” on the placard, Sablan asked, “Justice before the court? Justice for what? No one here is under any restraint to stay here. Everyone is free. They can get up and leave any time they want to.”
Justice does not just mean freedom of movement. Justice is a guest worker program with a pathway to citizenship. Justice is having a vote and representation in a land that you have lived more years than in the country where you were born. Justice is being able to travel freely like the "guest" workers in the mainland can –from state to state and to homelands without having to fill out pages of forms or pay fees. Justice is being respected. Justice is being paid a living wage for every hour that one works. Justice is being free from discrimination and xenophobia. Justice is being viewed as a human being rather than as a labor unit. Justice is equality. Justice is having someone ask you what you mean rather than having people interpret what you mean without even having a discussion with you.

As for the man hurting the alien workers' cause or his image. Ridiculous! The only image that may have been further hurt is the image of the CNMI, which is well-known as a place on U.S. soil where foreigners are exploited and treated as disposable commodities.

Ridiculous too is the suggestion that the chains and shackles "don't advance conversation". That representation absolutely is advancing conversation! He got noticed enough for the CNMI's U.S. Delegate to make a lengthy statement to the media.

Congratulations to the courageous protester who obviously got his message across.

Congratulations also to Rita Doca for being named First Princess in the Liberation Day Court!

Chamber of Commerce President Proposes Inhumane Plan

July 2, 2014

For years, I have been saying there are not enough U.S. citizens to fill all the jobs in the CNMI. With the CNMI-Only Temporary Guest Worker Program ending in 2019, the only reasonable solution would be to grant permanent residency to every legal long term nonresident worker. By doing that a skilled and stable workforce would be ensured.

In a speech before the Chamber of Commerce yesterday Chamber President Alex Sablan admitted that there are not enough U.S. citizens in the CNMI to replace the foreign workers. He is concerned that when the CW Program ends in 2019 there will not be enough workers. He appealed to Governor Inos and Delegate Sablan to ask the U.S. Congress to raise the cap of foreign workers from 14,000 to 16,000 and to establish a permanent guest worker program.

How very typical of a wealthy CNMI business owner to  propose keeping de facto citizen population permanently disenfranchised rather than proposing immediate permanent residency status for every CNMI legal, long term foreign worker.

From The Saipan Tribune:
He said the CNMI already has a CW program that is CNRA-based and is specific to the Commonwealth so extending it in “perpetuity” rather than only until 2019 will meet the CNMI’s needs if it wants to continue to grow its economy. 
“Is it going to be 14,000 or 16,000? I don’t think so but I believe there needs to be something,” he added. 
Sablan, in his presentation before the Chamber membership, said there are over 17,000 foreign and U.S. workers in the private sector and some 4,200 in government. He said there won’t be enough U.S. workers to replace over 11,000 foreign workers and given the growing economy, more workers will be needed. 
“Based on the numbers we project, based on hotel rooms coming online, airlines coming in, ancillary businesses, we are going to need an additional 5,000 employees,” he later said. 
Sablan said the CNMI can bring in as much Micronesian workers as possible, which was what Guam did in the mid-’90s to fulfill its workforce needs.  
But once we exhausted that, and bring those from the U.S. mainland, we still have to look for foreign workers. What the exact number is, I don’t know [but] that’s why we’re asking the governor to commission a report. Look at the dynamics, look at the projections,” he added.
Alex Sablan stated that his plan "meets the CNMI's needs." What about the needs of loyal, dedicated and skilled foreign workers who have contributed to the CNMI for years and decades; those people who make up a majority of the CNMI's population? No thoughts or comments on their needs?

I suppose if one looks at the foreign workers as mere numbers, labor units or disposable commodities it is not necessary to consider their needs. That must be Alex Sablan's problem.

The intent of the CNRA was not to establish a permanent guest worker program, but a temporary one.

The U.S Congress does not need anymore proposals from self-serving CNMI 'leaders' or elected officials. What the U.S. Congress needs to do is to act upon the 2010 Department of the Interior recommendation as was mandated under the law.

That 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." 

President Obama on Immigration

THE WHITE HOUSE                                            Office of the Press Secretary _________________________________________
For Immediate Release                                                                   June 30, 2014


Rose Garden 3:04 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. One year ago this month, senators of both parties –- with support from the business, labor, law enforcement, faith communities –- came together to pass a commonsense immigration bill.

Independent experts said that bill would strengthen our borders, grow our economy, shrink our deficits.  As we speak, there are enough Republicans and Democrats in the House to pass an immigration bill today. I would sign it into law today, and Washington would solve a problem in a bipartisan way.

But for more than a year, Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to allow an up-or-down vote on that Senate bill or any legislation to fix our broken immigration system. And I held off on pressuring them for a long time to give Speaker Boehner the space he needed to get his fellow Republicans on board.

Meanwhile, here’s what a year of obstruction has meant. It has meant fewer resources to strengthen our borders. It’s meant more businesses free to game the system by hiring undocumented workers, which punishes businesses that play by the rules, and drives down wages for hardworking Americans. It’s meant lost talent when the best and brightest from around the world come to study here but are forced to leave and then compete against our businesses and our workers. It’s meant no chance for 11 million immigrants to come out of the shadows and earn their citizenship if they pay a penalty and pass a background check, pay their fair share of taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line. It’s meant the heartbreak of separated families.

That’s what this obstruction has meant over the past year. That’s what the Senate bill would fix if the House allowed it to go to a vote. Our country and our economy would be stronger today if House Republicans had allowed a simple yes-or-no vote on this bill or, for that matter, any bill. They’d be following the will of the majority of the American people who support reform.

Instead, they’ve proven again and again that they’re unwilling to stand up to the tea party in order to do what’s best for the country. And the worst part about it is a bunch of them know better.

We now have an actual humanitarian crisis on the border that only underscores the need to drop the politics and fix our immigration system once and for all. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a surge of unaccompanied children arrive at the border, brought here and to other countries by smugglers and traffickers.

The journey is unbelievably dangerous for these kids. The children who are fortunate enough to survive it will be taken care of while they go through the legal process, but in most cases that process will lead to them being sent back home. I’ve sent a clear message to parents in these countries not to put their kids through this. I recently sent Vice President Biden to meet with Central American leaders and find ways to address the root causes of this crisis. Secretary Kerry will also be meeting with those leaders again tomorrow. With our international partners, we’re taking new steps to go after the dangerous smugglers who are putting thousands of children’s lives at risk.

Today, I sent a letter to congressional leaders asking that they work with me to address the urgent humanitarian challenge on the border, and support the immigration and Border Patrol agents who already apprehend and deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants every year.  And understand, by the way, for the most part, this is not a situation where these children are slipping through. They’re being apprehended. But the problem is, is that our system is so broken, so unclear that folks don’t know what the rules are.
Now, understand –- there are a number of Republicans who have been willing to work with us to pass real, commonsense immigration reform, and I want to thank them for their efforts. There are a number of Republican leaders in the Senate who did excellent work and deserve our thanks. And less visibly, there have been folks in the House who have been trying to work to get this done. And quietly, because it doesn’t always help me to praise them, I’ve expressed to them how much I appreciate the efforts that they’ve made.

I believe Speaker Boehner when he says he wants to pass an immigration bill. I think he genuinely wants to get something done. But last week, he informed me that Republicans will continue to block a vote on immigration reform at least for the remainder of this year. Some in the House Republican Caucus are using the situation with unaccompanied children as their newest excuse to do nothing. Now, I want everybody to think about that. Their argument seems to be that because the system is broken, we shouldn’t make an effort to fix it. It makes no sense. It’s not on the level. It’s just politics, plain and simple.

Now, there are others in the Republican Caucus in the House who are arguing that they can’t act because they’re mad at me about using my executive authority too broadly. This also makes no sense. I don’t prefer taking administrative action. I’d rather see permanent fixes to the issue we face. Certainly that’s true on immigration. I’ve made that clear multiple times. I would love nothing more than bipartisan legislation to pass the House, the Senate, land on my desk so I can sign it. That’s true about immigration, that’s true about the minimum wage, it’s true about equal pay. There are a whole bunch of things where I would greatly prefer Congress actually do something. I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing. And in this situation, the failure of House Republicans to pass a darn bill is bad for our security, it’s bad for our economy, and it’s bad for our future.

So while I will continue to push House Republicans to drop the excuses and act –- and I hope their constituents will too -– America cannot wait forever for them to act. And that’s why, today, I’m beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress. As a first step, I’m directing the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General to move available and appropriate resources from our interior to the border. Protecting public safety and deporting dangerous criminals has been and will remain the top priority, but we are going to refocus our efforts where we can to make sure we do what it takes to keep our border secure.

I have also directed Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Holder to identify additional actions my administration can take on our own, within my existing legal authorities, to do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can. If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours. I expect their recommendations before the end of summer and I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay.

Of course, even with aggressive steps on my part, administrative action alone will not adequately address the problem. The reforms that will do the most to strengthen our businesses, our workers, and our entire economy will still require an act of Congress. And I repeat: These are reforms that already enjoy the wide support of the American people. It’s very rare where you get labor, business, evangelicals, law enforcement all agreeing on what needs to be done. And at some point, that should be enough. Normally, that is enough. The point of public service is to solve public problems. And those of us who have the privilege to serve have a responsibility to do everything in our power to keep Americans safe and to keep the doors of opportunity open. And if we do, then one year from now, not only would our economy and our security be stronger, but maybe the best and the brightest from around the world who come study here would stay and create jobs here.

Maybe companies that play by the rules will no longer be undercut by companies that don’t. Maybe more families who’ve been living here for years, whose children are often U.S. citizens, who are our neighbors and our friends, whose children are our kids’ friends and go to school with them, and play on ball teams with them, maybe those families would get to stay together. But much of this only happens if Americans continue to push Congress to get this done.

So I’ve told Speaker Boehner that even as I take those steps that I can within my existing legal authorities to make the immigration system work better, I’m going to continue to reach out to House Republicans in the hope that they deliver a more permanent solution with a comprehensive bill. Maybe it will be after the midterms, when they’re less worried about politics. Maybe it will be next year. Whenever it is, they will find me a willing partner. I have been consistent in saying that I am prepared to work with them even on a bill that I don't consider perfect. And the Senate bill was a good example of the capacity to compromise and get this done. The only thing I can’t do is stand by and do nothing while waiting for them to get their act together.

And I want to repeat what I said earlier. If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills. Pass a bill; solve a problem. Don't just say no on something that everybody agrees needs to be done. Because if we pass a bill, that will supplant whatever I’ve done administratively. We’ll have a structure there that works, and it will be permanent. And people can make plans and businesses can make plans based on the law. And there will be clarity both here inside this country and outside it.

Let me just close by saying Friday is the Fourth of July. It’s the day we celebrate our independence and all the things that make this country so great. And each year, Michelle and I host a few hundred service members and wounded warriors and their families right here on the lawn for a barbecue and fireworks on the Mall.

And some of the service members coming this year are unique because they signed up to serve, to sacrifice, potentially to give their lives for the security of this country even though they weren’t yet Americans. That's how much they love this country. They were prepared to fight and die for an America they did not yet fully belong to. I think they’ve earned their stripes in more ways than one. And that’s why on Friday morning we’re going to naturalize them in a ceremony right here at the White House. This Independence Day will be their first day as American citizens.

One of the things we celebrate on Friday –- one of the things that make this country great –- is that we are a nation of immigrants. Our people come from every corner of the globe. That's what makes us special. That's what makes us unique. And throughout our history, we’ve come here in wave after wave from everywhere understanding that there was something about this place where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts; that all the different cultures and ideas and energy would come together and create something new.

We won this country’s freedom together. We built this country together. We defended this country together. It makes us special. It makes us strong. It makes us Americans. That’s worth celebrating. And that's what I want not just House Republicans but all of us as Americans to remember. Thanks very much.

END 3:21 P.M. EDT