Senate Bill 2739 Provides Status

March 18, 2008

S. 2739 On Track
The Saipan Tribune reported yesterday that S. 2739 is on track to be heard after the Easter recess. The Senate will go on break this Friday and return March 31st. The bill does not need to be marked up since it is virtually the same bill as S. 2483, just repackaged with bi-partisan bills.

S. 2483 was held up because of an amendment to allow hand guns in public parks that was added by Senator Tom Colburn (OK-R). The bill does not need to be returned to the House for further action there. After it passes the Senate, it will be signed by President Bush. The law will go into effect one year after it is signed.

Status Provision in S. 2739
The Saipan Tribune interviewed a Congressional staffer who has cleared up confusion on the bill

"A ranking congressional staffer insists that the provision on CNMI immigration included in S.2739 allows nonresident workers to remain in the CNMI during the transition period and offers them an opportunity to gain permanent U.S. status. The Fitial administration, however, argues that the bill is vague on this matter and on several other aspects relating to immigration."
The Fitial Administration has been arguing the meaning of the bill since January. Members of the administration have been accused of misinterpreting the bill and confusing issues. But most of their arguments are baseless, and change from week to week.

"The congressional staff source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the proposed Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 provides that “all current CNMI workers would be eligible to remain in the CNMI under the federal guest worker program, and may become eligible for permanent U.S. status.”

He added that, at the earliest, the nonresident worker program would be phased out in 2014, but added that the federal government has the option to extend that.“There shouldn't be any confusion, as 2014 is six years away, and the law provides that the transition period can be extended in five-year increments indefinitely,” he added."

The Tribune story clarified some questions guest workers have been asking:

Sub-section (h) of S.2739 requires the Interior Secretary-in consultation with the Homeland Security Secretary and the CNMI governor-to provide Congress with a report on the nonresident guest worker population no later than two years after the date of enactment of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008.

The report shall include:
(1) the number of aliens residing in the Commonwealth;
(2) a description of the legal status (under federal law) of such aliens;
(3) the number of years each alien has been residing in the Commonwealth; and
(4) the current and future requirements of the Commonwealth economy for an alien workforce.

In the report, the Interior Secretary will be required to make recommendations to Congress “as to whether or not the Congress should consider permitting lawfully admitted guest workers lawfully residing in the Commonwealth on such enactment date to apply for long-term status under the immigration and nationality laws of the United States.”

Charles Reyes, Fitial's press secretary argued that the federal government would be managing from afar without considering local needs. However, he fails to acknowledge that with the federal takeover of immigration there will be a larger federal presence in the CNMI with federal officials and personnel in place to report back to Congress.

The market should determine how many workers we should have, not federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. who are detached and far removed from our situation here locally. The market should decide what kind of workers and how many workers are needed because the market is going to need the different skills and knowledge from afar,” he said.

Expenses Driving People To Leave CNMI
Today's Marianas Variety quoted Rota Representative Victor Hocog as saying that 60 families have left the island of Rota due to the high cost of living and low wages. The story said:

A Rota resident, who declined to be identified, told Variety that the pay levels there are “very low” and will not be enough for someone raising a family. The prices of gasoline and basic commodities, which are high on Saipan, are even more expensive on Rota, she added. Hocog said the prices on Rota are “unbelievable.”

The high cost of power rates is also a concern, he added.

A Rota resident, who declined to be identified, told Variety that the pay levels there are “very low” and will not be enough for someone raising a family. The prices of gasoline and basic commodities, which are high on Saipan, are even more expensive on Rota, she added.

Hocog said the prices on Rota are “unbelievable.”

The high cost of power rates is also a concern, he added.

And then there is also a problem in transporting commodities to Rota as there is only one ferry that ships goods to the island, Hocog said.

Sometimes, he added, the shipment is delayed for months, and this results in scarcity of needed supplies on Rota."


High Gas Prices
The Marianas Variety reported that the price of gas increase to $4.14 in the CNMI, a $.28 increase since January. On Rota gas is almost $5.00 a gallon, reaching $4.80. Tinian 's price is $4.65 a gallon, and Guam's is $4.01. The story says:

"The CNMI’s hourly minimum wage is $3.55. It is scheduled to increase by 50 cents in May, but the Fitial administration is asking the U.S. Congress to suspend its implementation.

The continued rise in fuel prices is expected to result in even higher power rates and more expensive basic commodities.

U.S.-based human rights activist Wendy Doromal said some workers in the local private sector can no longer cope with the high cost of living on the islands.

“One would have to work more than an hour to be able to pay for a gallon of gasoline,” said Doromal.

“(Some) workers have told me they cannot afford to eat three meals a day — some cannot afford to eat more than one,” she added.

Their situation is worsened by the lack of drinking water on the islands.

“A basic need, such as potable drinking water that is generally free on the U.S. mainland, is another necessary expense on Saipan where all drinking water must be purchased. One 9-ounce bottle of water costs $1. Many workers are sharing housing, and crowding into small rooms to try to make ends meet,” Doromal said.

She added, “The price of electricity is 17 to 25.3 cents per kilowatt hour, causing many workers to ration electricity…. The average cost of electricity in the 50 states is 8.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. Clearly, the vast majority of the population in the CNMI is suffering from circumstances related to absurdly low wages.”

1 comments:

Ron Hodges said...

We have been saying this for ages (regarding status) and anyone that read the bill should have assumed that. What else could we do with thousands of workers other than grant them proper and lawful status to work in America. And on that note, in America we have a free market society and economy.

The greatest freedom a worker has is the right to quit.

Ron Hodges