More Reaction To PL 110-229

May 10, 2008

Sisters of the Good Shepherd

The National Advocacy Center for the Sisters of the Good Shepherds released a press statement saying they are delighted with the President's signing of S 2739. Sr. Carol McClenon who worked for four years in the CNMI, is now the Interim National Coordinator of Center in Washington, DC which works to educate about social justice issues and advocate for reform.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd have been working in Guma Esperansa and Karidat since 1999 to provide shelter for battered women, and women and children who are victims of human trafficking.

From the article:

In February of 2007, Sr. Mary Stella Mangona travelled to Washington, D.C. from Saipan with a survivor of trafficking to testify before Congress. They testified about the dismal situation of workers in the CNMI.

The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd has been advocating for the passage of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 which includes a piece of legislation to reform immigration in the CNMI.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd feel that that this law, signed yesterday by the President, will have a positive effect on the lives of the women living in the CNMI and will help prevent future instances of human trafficking.

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KAKAMMPI News, an online news source for Pinoys abroad, stated positive reaction from the Filipino community in the CNMI. From the article:

Many long-time Filipino workers interviewed by GMANews.TV, including those who have been here for over 20 years, were ecstatic about the prospect of enjoying the benefits of the federal guest worker program.

The article also has quote from David Cohen, former Deputy Secretary of Insular Affairs who helped to draft the bill:

Concerned US government agencies, he said, “must now develop regulations and implement the law in a way that benefits the CNMI's economy, its indigenous people, guest workers from the Philippines and other countries and the US as a whole."

“I hope that the CNMI government will finally agree to participate in this process in a constructive manner. I also hope that Congress will follow up with legislation making long-term guest workers eligible for US permanent residence. I strongly believe that such a move would create a stable workforce that is less likely to drive down wages, and hence would benefit the local business community and the indigenous people of the CNMI as much as the guest workers," Cohen told GMANews.TV via e-mail.

Most people including Washington Rep. Pete A. Tenorio, federal officials, human rights advocates, and residents agree that the CNMI government should stop fighting, and participate in drafting regulations that will best serve all of the people of the CNMI. Still, according to the Pacific Magazine the governor is still resisting the inevitable...

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Governor May Sue

Pacific Magazine reports that Governor Benigno Fitial is still considering suing the federal government to block PL 110-229:

Fitial said he will continue to consult with local lawmakers, the private sector, and other interested parties “about our options going forward.”

The governor in his State of the Commonwealth address last week said he had not made up its mind on how to proceed with immigration federalization, which his administration had strongly opposed. One of the options he cited is to sue the U.S. government. The other two are to help draft the implementing regulations and to seek amendments to the new law.

He stated:

“The passage of S. 2739, the CNMI federal takeover bill imposing unprecedented immigration and labor controls, represents the end of an era for the people and government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands,” Fitial said.

Here is Governor Fitial's statement:


Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Public Information and Protocol Office
Office of the Governor
Caller Box 10007
Capital Hill
Saipan, MP 96950
Tel: (670) 664-2276
Fax: (670) 664-2290

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release Date: May 9, 2008

Fitial Statement on Approved Federal Takeover Legislation

The passage of S. 2739, the CNMI Federal Takeover bill imposing unprecedented U.S. immigration and labor controls, represents the end of an era for the people and government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

I believe that local control of immigration, labor, and minimum wage policies under our Covenant agreement with the United States Government served as vital economic development tools that transformed the CNMI economy during the 1980s and 1990s, and created a higher standard of living for CNMI residents and non-resident guest workers. The CNMI’s liberal free market policies previously enabled the CNMI to attract investments and develop a more modern and prosperous economy that substantially removed the poverty experienced during the days of the U.S. Trust Territory government.

I had hoped to continue using these sound economic tools to orchestrate an economic recovery for the CNMI, and I deeply regret that recently passed federal legislation may impede our local government’s ability to orchestrate an economic recovery based on sound economic incentives and competitive free market policies.

I understand that there are three factors of production vital to the success of any economy. These factors of production are land, labor, and capital. The Federal government’s arbitrary political restrictions will severely damage our ability to attract and keep a sufficient labor force to sustain and grow our island economy. The new federal law, for instance, mandates that all CNMI guest workers will be phased out in five years. An economy without an adequate supply of labor would be a weak and distressed economy.

Our ability to attract capital will also be severely compromised by our inability, under federal law, to attract and keep an adequate foreign workforce to further develop our economy and increase our standard of living. Investment capital will likely not be attracted by artificially high labor costs resulting from forced federal minimum wage increases based on political rather than sound economic considerations. Forced federal wage increases would increase the cost of doing business and exacerbate an upward inflationary spiral already caused by record high fuel costs and the loss of the CNMI’s garment industry shipping subsidy previously derived from greater export volume and economies of scale.

The recently approved federal immigration legislation was not justified by existing CNMI economic conditions and failed to take the CNMI’s true economic situation into account. In advancing the bill, prominent U.S. policymakers got CNMI population figures wrong, greatly exaggerating the population of nonresident workers by a factor of one hundred. And sweatshop conditions and our garment industry were wrongly cited as justifications for the federal legislation, as federal policy-makers pointedly failed to recognize the demise of our apparel manufacturing industry and the weakness in our tourism base.

Like the federal minimum wage law applied to the CNMI, the federal immigration bill was passed without the benefit of an economic impact study, and despite conflicting interpretations of the legislation’s provisions.

For example, long after the Senate passed S. 2739 on April 10, 2008, the Senate Energy Committee report on the bill has been made public. Full of long-discredited allegations regarding the Commonwealth and numerous technical errors, the report rejects GAO’s view of a critical section of the legislation.

The provision in question relates to the issuance of H visas in Guam and the CNMI during the “transition program” without being restricted by the numerical limitations applicable nationally to such visas. In its legal report dated March 28, 2008, the GAO took the position that this exemption from these limitations would end on December 31, 2014, even if the Secretary of Labor exercised the authority granted under the legislation to extend the transition period for up to five years. According to GAO, the Secretary is authorized only to extend the CNMI-Only Transitional Program in the bill, but not other aspects of the transition program, such as the provisions relating to the issuance of H visas.

The CNMI strongly opposed this interpretation as unsupported by the language of the bill, its legislative history, and common sense. The Senate Committee report agrees with this position. With respect to this exemption from the numerical caps, the Committee states:

“The Committee notes that this waiver is necessary to help meet the anticipated labor demands of the planned U.S. military buildup in Guam and the CNMI, and the Committee intends that this waiver of the numerical limitations for Guam and the CNMI is extended along with any extension of the five-year transition period.”

Two paragraphs later, the Committee discusses the power of the Secretary of Labor to extend the transition period and points out:

“It is important to note that the transition period covers several policies and programs and is not limited to the Commonwealth Only Transitional Workers Program. For example, the transitional program also covers the Guam/CNMI waiver on numerical limitations on the INA H-visa program.”

The Committee’s effort to justify the legislation is based almost entirely on allegations and facts before the Committee eight years earlier.

• It relies on statistics regarding the CNMI workforce presented by the Commission on Immigration Reform in 1997. The report ignores the current data supplied by the Commonwealth regarding its actual population and the substantial reduction in the number of foreign workers since 2005.
• It ignores the changing nature of the CNMI economy as a result of the 2005 changes in world trade rules and the departure from the CNMI of most of the apparel factories.
• It ignores the current economic depression in the CNMI and makes no effort to assess the likely impact of the legislation on the economy and the Commonwealth’s citizens.
• It recycles 1997 allegations from the Immigration and Naturalization Service regarding law enforcement problems and the inroads of organized crime into the CNMI. These allegations were unsupported at the time and certainly have no relevance to the Commonwealth today.
• It cites a 2006 report by the Federal Ombudsman as supporting a persistent pattern of exploitation and mistreatment of aliens. This was a report that was so convincingly rebutted by the CNMI Department of Labor that the Ombudsman has not prepared another report in the last two years.

The Senate Committee report is confusing in many respects.

• The report states that the Committee recommends the House bill (H.R.3079) for approval “without amendment.” But in fact the bill submitted to the Senate did have two amendments – the most important one being the changed date of the expiration of the transition period (from 2013 to 2014).
• The report includes a version of H.R.3079 which was not the version actually passed by the House of Representatives and sent to the Senate for action.
• The report “encourages” the federal agencies implementing the legislation “to keep the costs associated with the transition program period on employers and non-immigrant guest workers at the same level as is currently being assessed by the CNMI government under local law.” But the report of the Congressional Budget Office included in the Committee report anticipates a very different end result. It states that “We expect that by 2010 [the Department of Homeland Security] would cover its costs by collecting fees from applicants for visas.”

I deeply regret that this legislation was passed to the detriment of the CNMI’s economic recovery efforts, and I will continue to consult with the Legislature, the business community, and other interested stakeholders about our options going forward.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The provision in question relates to the issuance of H visas in Guam and the CNMI during the “transition program” without being restricted by the numerical limitations applicable nationally to such visas. In its legal report dated March 28, 2008, the GAO took the position that this exemption from these limitations would end on December 31, 2014, even if the Secretary of Labor exercised the authority granted under the legislation to extend the transition period for up to five years. According to GAO, the Secretary is authorized only to extend the CNMI-Only Transitional Program in the bill, but not other aspects of the transition program, such as the provisions relating to the issuance of H visas."

This may be true, but then the Senate CHANGED THE BILL TO MAKE IT CLEAR THE EXEMPTION FROM THE H-WORKER CAPS WOULD CONTINUE DURING ANY EXTENSION OF THE TRANSITION PERIOD. Fitial and his lawyers are either idiots who didn't know this, or liars who did, and who think everyone is too stupid to catch them lying.

KAP said...

I don't get it. Who is the press statement aimed at? The issues are settled and he's still arguing against the legislation.

Is this justification for the $15 million he wants?

I'd bet on expedited implementation, at least concerning labor for the military buildup on Guam. To me, that's the subtext of Bush Administration support.

Wendy said...

Thanks anonymous for the clarification.

KAP, I don't get it either.

About the $15 million - as a US taxpayer I am happy to help fund CNMI infrastructure projects, education, needed social, health, and aid programs, etc. In fact, I have repeatedly asked for funds for Karidat, federal staffing needs, and the power plant when I have visited offices in Washington. But I question the wisdom of giving money to the CNMI when the CNMI continually reaches out one hand to accept US funds, and uses the other hand to turn money over to lobbyists.

The $15 million was a figure brought up when both the CNMI and Samoa objected to the 50 cent minimum wage hike - See this story. I am not convinced that a 50 cent wage hike would "adversely" impact the CNMI. I am not sure I trust the Fitial administration to use $15 million wisely to benefit all of the people in the CNMI. If $15 million is given, the federal government should be very specific as to what it can and cannot be used for...

It seems doubling the electricity rate is more devastating to the economy than a 50 cent minimum wage increase could ever be.

Ron Hodges said...

It is tough to understand an administration that would pay lobbyists to block a 50 cent minimum wage and double the power rates in the same week.

The entire term in office has been riddled with deception, lies, and personal business agendas.

If the chamber, HANMI, and the Fitial administration had any shame, they would beg forgiveness for a generation of damage to the reputation and lives of the decent people of the commonwealth.

Most of our Congress is weak to stand up to the Governor.

Anonymous said...

Rather than fighting the feds in court, why not use the money for the troubled CUC?

I don't see any sense and any reason why waste more money to pay for lobbyist and further court proceedings when this money can be used locally for the people of the CNMI.

Has the CNMI governor gone, as the Mexicans say it, "poco loco"? You tell me..

Public Law 110-229 Student said...

Anonymous said...

“This may be true, but then the Senate CHANGED THE BILL TO MAKE IT CLEAR THE EXEMPTION FROM THE H-WORKER CAPS WOULD CONTINUE DURING ANY EXTENSION OF THE TRANSITION PERIOD. Fitial and his lawyers are either idiots who didn't know this, or liars who did, and who think everyone is too stupid to catch them lying.”

The H visa provisions are at Pub. L. 110-229, tit. VII, § 702(a), amending Joint Resolution to approve the Covenant, § 6(b).

Given the salaries paid, it is unsurprising that CNMI government lawyers are not nearly as swift as those employed by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

But no amendment was made to Title VII of S.2739 after it was introduced on March 10, 2008, so maybe “Anonymous” and the GAO Report dated March 28, 2008 aren't up to CNMI or Interior standards, either.