Senate Committee Spokesperson: S. 2739 To Pass

April 6, 2008

Get the champagne ready?

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee spokesperson, Bill Wicker, states that S. 2739 has bipartisan support and will pass this month. As posted previously, Congressional Quarterly reported that they have the needed 60 votes for passage. Today's Variety article states:

"The spokesman for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources says the omnibus package bill that contains the measure federalizing local immigration is expected to be passed this month with bipartisan support.

Bill Wicker, communications director of the committee, told Variety in an e-mail that S. 2739, or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, will have the majority’s support.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. and chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is the bill’s sponsor.

“We are unaware of any member objecting to its passage,” Wicker said."

Or not?

Meanwhile, opposition, and the fight to block federalization continues. Tan executive, Lynn Knight, has made her third trip to the nation's capitol to oppose minimum wage and federalization. Howard Willens has been busy "educating" Senators as to what he considers perceived flaws in the legislation. A guest worker attending the April 2, 2008 forum to discuss status for guest workers, stated that Fitial's unpaid consultant, attorney Deanne Siemer said, "If federalization comes first before this proposal, then they will sue the federal government to block it. They will file an injunction."

Nativists from Guam also are continuing their fight. An April 1, 2008 post on the Peace and Justice for Guam and the Pacific website authored by Michael Lujan Bevacqua of San Diego, CA states:

Call Your Senators Today!

The Federalization of the CNMI is still very much an issue, and right now we need people around the United States to call their Senators to inform them about how it is being snuck into a larger bill without adequate hearing or vetting."

The plea is followed by a list of links, sample letters to Senators, a sample phone script and more.

Then, of course, there is today's letter to the editor from Taotao Tano's president, Greg Cruz, who up until now has remained uncharacteristically quiet about forum meetings with guest workers, and "volunteer" attorneys Deanne Siemer and Maya Kara. In the letter he discusses the forums and states:

"We are willing to set aside all our differences and set out a new course of direction to find solutions to this ongoing non-resident issues in our homeland for it is the right thing to do. "

Just exactly what does he consider the "right thing" to do? Workers reported that at the forums Cruz clearly stated he was against federalization. His letter continues:

"Rep. Tina Sablan now says she had already drafted a bill concerning the granting of CNMI residency status to foreign guest workers who had been residing in the CNMI for the past seven years. As president of TAOTAO TANO we completely disagree with this disrespectful approach. The residency issue is important to the local community and we deserve a chance to discuss it ourselves before someone tries to write a bill and tell us what to think. Tina Sablan says she wants to act now in 30 days before federalization happens and the federal government tries to take away the right of maximum self-government that our people negotiated for in the Covenant. She seems to forget that she was the frontline of the recent Unity March leading the foreign guest workers in support of a federal immigration and opposition to a good law 15-108 which we supported 110 percent. She has been telling foreign workers that federalization was good for them, and now it is realized that federalization is not so good for them, at least not for long-term residency. The CNMI could provide that longer-term residency for foreign workers, but the federalization bill does not provide that at all. In fact, the federalization bill has as its goal the reduction to zero of all foreign workers here in the CNMI and to send them all home."

I question some of the statements here. What is disrespectful about a legislator drafting a bill? Most legislation is drafted before there are hearings to discuss and amend it. I also question this statement: "Tina Sablan says she wants to act now in 30 days before federalization happens and the federal government tries to take away the maximum self-government that our people have negotiated for in the Covenant..." Really? I would like to hear Rep. Tina Sablan speak for herself on this issue.

Cruz stated, "The CNMI could provide that longer-term residency for foreign workers, but the federalization bill does not provide that at all." First, the CNMI cannot provide residency. Just as Connecticut, cannot provide Connecticut residency, or Arizona cannot provide Arizona residency. Residents of the CNMI are U.S. citizens, just as the residents of the states are U.S. citizens. The CNMI has no authority to offer residency to foreigners; just as any state has no such authority. Isn't it extended status that is being discussed, and not residency at the forums? A kind of five-year (or however long is decided) status for long-term workers with the ability to change jobs, and work multiple jobs. I was told that it is not "permanent residency" or even "long-term residency," but a renewal extended status.

It has been pointed out by the Federal Ombudsman that The CNMI’s Constitution, Article II, Section 5, prevents the CNMI Legislature from passing any legislation that creates permanent residency or citizens, other than those who were born here. Article II, Section 5 says, in part: ‘The Legislature shall enact no law which increases the class of non-aliens.” It appears that a change would require a Constitutional Amendment which could take more time to pass than the one-year transition period from the time S.2739 passes and the time it goes into effect. Furthermore, the U.S. government could challenge the granting of any locally enacted "residency" to a foreigner.

Secondly, of course S. 2739 does not contain status - Fitial, his federalization fighters in the CNMI, and lobbyists in the states made sure that the provision was removed!

Cruz states,
"In fact, the federalization bill has as its goal the reduction to zero of all foreign workers here in the CNMI and to send them all home." This is not true. Federal officials, and others have repeatedly corrected that misinformation. However, Willens, Siemer, Kaipat, Knight, Cruz, Arenovski, and many who wish to defeat federalization use that lie as a weapon to convince desperate guest workers and business owners that if they accept federalization, they will be doomed. Recently, Bill Wicker, spokesperson for the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources stated (again):

“We remain concerned that opponents of federalization continue to deliberately misinterpret and misinform the community about this legislation, to make it appear insensitive to CNMI concerns. For example, opponents consistently cite the [guest worker program] phase-out, but always neglect to also quote from Section 701 of the bill.

"Wicker said, the new section 6(d)(5) of the law provides that the governor of the CNMI will be consulted in determining “whether an extension of up to five years of the [guest worker program] is necessary to ensure an adequate number of workers will be available for legitimate businesses in the Commonwealth.”

"In contrast to what opponents of federalization say, “there is no limit on the number of such five-year extensions,” he said.

Wicker added that the U.S. Senate has every right to put CNMI immigration under the control of the federal government, since that right is clearly mandated in its Covenant with the islands.

“It is important for the community to recall that the Covenant specifically grants the U.S. the right to extend its immigration laws. After the attacks of 9-11, and with the military buildup in Guam, the U.S. now has compelling reasons to exercise that right. It can be argued that those who oppose this reform legislation are not keeping faith with the Covenant,” he said."

The federal government will address the permanent status of the guest workers after the S. 2739 is passed and within the 2-year time period that such issues would be addressed. (I would guess much sooner.) I support green card status for long-term resident workers and parents of U.S. citizen children who work and reside in the CNMI as stated in this post. However, any status that would provide guest workers security and stability while living and working in the CNMI would be beneficial. The process of determining that status for the guest workers has to be totally open and honest if people are expected to buy into it. It has to be conducted with people who are trusted; people who have consistently demonstrated that they have the best interests of the guest workers in mind.