Reaction on Senate Passage of S. 2739

April 12, 2008

Reaction to the news that S. 2739 was mixed as expected. Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GM) has a press release on her House web-site regarding the passage of the bill. She states:

“The passage of the CNMI bill by the Senate today reaffirms the broad bipartisan support for it. It is part of a package of a number of bills important to many Members of the House. It is expected to return to the House as part of this entire package, which has support. I will continue to work with the leadership, including Congresswoman Christensen and Congressman Rahall, to move it forward toward enactment. This bill has provisions that will help Guam’s visitor industry and that will address the coming labor shortages for the buildup.”

Rep. Donna M. Christensen (D-VI), chairwomen of the House Insular Affairs Subcommittee told Saipan Tribune reporter Agnes Donato that she was "very pleased" with the bill's passage. The article says:

ISLA will provide a greater measure of security for the Marianas archipelago and opportunities for the region to grow and diversify their economies,” Christensen said."

A Pacific Daily News story by Gaynor Dumot-Ol Daleno said Governor Fitial expressed "disappointment":

"He said the "federalization of the CNMI immigration system would be a radical policy change imposed during the CNMI's most vulnerable point."

The CNMI is suffering from its worst economic downturn in more than 20 years, he said.

"The move to federalize our immigration is not based on current facts and does not take the CNMI's vulnerable economic situation into account," said Fitial."

The Saipan Tribune quoted the governor as saying:

"...the proposed federal immigration controls were too restrictive and “would have a very severe adverse impact on our economy and community.”

The local government fears that a federal immigration system would restrict the Commonwealth's access to foreign workers and tourists, especially from Russia and China."

The Saipan Tribune quoted Rep. Tina Sablan as "calling on fellow CNMI leaders to cooperate with the federal government in drafting regulations to implement the soon-to-be-enacted law" saying:

“The passage of this bill brings us closer to a stronger voice in Congress, and to stabilizing and enhancing labor and immigration conditions in the CNMI. The next step is for our government to work cooperatively and productively with the federal government in the development of the new immigration regulations. Now is the time to be reasonable and intelligent in our relations with the federal government. We cannot and should not continue to fight what has been long overdue. Our economic future depends on it.”

The same story quoted Lynn Knight, chairperson of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands and one of Fitial's main anti-federalization lobbyists as "being very concerned" about the H visa system in the bill. She emphasized the importance of working with key federal agencies and members of Congress.

A Saipan Tribune story by reporter Ferdie de la Torre states that attorney Stephen Woodruff is pleased that the legislation has passed:

“Of course that's just one step but it's an important step. We're one step closer to crossing the federalization hurdle,” Woodruff said...

Woodruff said that the federalization hurdle is an obstacle to the CNMI getting its economy back on track because of uncertainty about the federalization issue and the debates that take away efforts to rebuild the economy."

“Once the president signs this legislation into law, then we will be cross the federalization hurdle and we can all work together to make federalization work for the CNMI,” he said.

The article says Boni Sagana, Dekada president said:

"...they are very happy because the passage provides them a small measure of progress in what they have been fighting for.

Sagana said their group's position has not changed, which is for federalization.

“I believe that the passage will pave the way for big changes, especially toward fair and just labor and immigration for the good of the workers,” he said in Tagalog."

Jerry Custodio, president of the Human Dignity Movement said:

"...they are very happy and grateful to God, members of the U.S. Congress, human rights groups, and their supporters.

Custodio particularly mentioned Doromal who according to him, has fought for workers' rights in the CNMI for two decades now.

He invites everyone to attend Sunday's Thanksgiving Mass at 8am at the Kristo Rai Church in Garapan."

Haidee V. Eugenio of GMA News said Filipinos and human rights advocates hailed the passage as a significant victory:
S. 2739 would not phase out foreign workers in the CNMI contrary to misinformation that has spread in the community. It would simply phase out, at the end of the transition period, the special CNMI-only guest worker program. Workers could still come to the CNMI under all US visa categories, and there may even be special CNMI-only visa categories added in the future. Wendy Doromal, a US-based human rights advocate who has been instrumental in getting the messages of CNMI guest workers heard in Washington, D.C., said the bill’s passage “is a significant victory for every advocate, every federal official, and every person who has fought to end labor and human rights abuses in the CNMI."

The bill also says that within two years, the secretary of the US Department of the Interior, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the governor of the CNMI, must provide US Congress with a report that should include the secretary of the Interior's recommendations on whether guest workers should be permitted to apply for long-term status under US law.

This provision has been giving hope to the guest workers in the CNMI, which is about three hours away from Manila.

Anywhere on Saipan where Filipinos and other guest workers meet, the US Senate’s passage of the bill has been the only topic of conversations.

Text messages about the federalization bill passage have since circulated early Friday morning on Saipan.

Blogs have also been teeming with the latest action on the immigration bill."


Saipan Writer said...

From my limited perspective on the ground in Saipan, it seems the reaction is fairly muted, though. I expected a LOT more hoopla. Fireworks, maybe? Something!

I hope there's a plan for celebration if and when the President signs the bill into law.

Site Administrator said...

I think the guest workers are excited judging by the pages of e-mails! I received one e-mail that said, "If this were the Philippines, we'd be in the streets."

I am sure the celebration will happen when the bill is signed.

Anonymous said...

I think it will be a great day when President Bush signs the bill. What I am concerned about is the misinformation being circulated amongst the contract workers that the bill would grant immediate "green cards" to those who have been in the CNMI for 5 years or longer. The bill does not say that, but it does provide that a study will be done to determine how best to improve the status of these workers. In my personal opinion, I think the federal govt punted on the issue and will determine how many people will actually be covered by such a move. Once they see the numbers, I think they will eventually amend the law and give qualifying aliens the green cards they deserve.

I am very concerned, after hearing all this from my brother in law and sister in law about the granting of "green cards" and comparisons to what happened in Guam when the Organic Act passed, that many contract workers will feel frustration when they find out the bill does not give them the status they are expecting.

The focus of most people is on the effect of federalization on the contract workers, but I think federalization will help the several hundred spouses of U.S. citizens who have not yet been able to get green cards because their abusive spouses use their fragile I.R. status as a way of keeping them in abusive marriages. I have encountered dozens of filipina women who continue to remain in abusive marriages because of the consequence that they will be deported if they divorce their U.S. citizen spouse.

Federalization of the immigration system will restore basic human rights and fair play. It will no longer be the CNMI deportation agents wielding their abusive powers to help their relatives or their friends, but rather it will be a federal officer applying the same rules for everyone no matter who they are.