Reaction to the Signing of S 2739

May 9, 2008

Pacific Magazine in Hawaii picked up a Saipan Tribune story stating that the Saipan Chamber of Commerce will be forming a group of seven members to study the immigration law and draft provision they would like to be included in the regulations:

“Although we do not yet know the extent to which the federal government will invite local participate in the regulation-drafting process, we believe that the local government will support our inclusion in negotiations whenever possible,” said Chamber president James T. Arenovski."

Lynn Knight, the chairwoman of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, said that her group will also be working to propose regulations:

“We will work with it as best as we can. We will participate in any and all efforts with drafting the regulations if given the opportunity to do so,” she said."

CNMI Washington Representative Pete A. Tenorio called on the Fitial administration to move on and embrace the change:

“Let us stop the rhetoric and bury the hatchet. Let’s just get to work and show a spirit of unity,” Tenorio said."

Another Pacific Magazine article quotes Congresswoman Donna Christensen who is held in high esteem by the guest workers, and their advocates:

“Today is a historic victory for the many people of the CNMI who have been frustrated by the lack of representation in the U.S. Congress and the poor management of local immigration policy. Finally, with the signing of this bill into law, every United States citizen, from the Virgin Islands to the Mariana Islands, will have a voice in Congress. The actions taken by the New Democratic Congress to pass this legislation serve to set the CNMI and the entire Marianas region on a new course of security and prosperity,” Christensen said.

Still another Pacific Magazine article noted the positive response to the bill. CNMI Rep. Tina Sablan called the signing "good news":

“It is good to finally turn the page and open up a new chapter for the commonwealth. We have before us an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, and we should seize that opportunity,” she said. "
The article quotes my website:

"Human rights activist Wendy Doromal called the signing of the law “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. It is a momentous victory for the guest workers in the CNMI. It is a personal victory for me, and for my family.”

It quotes the House Committee on Natural Resources Committee Chair, Congressman Nick J. Rahall as saying:

"This long-awaited victory is a critical step toward preventing a recurrence of the horrible abuses that pervaded the CNMI as a result of an unchecked and ruthless garment industry. As chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, I look forward to welcoming a CNMI Delegate to this body in the 111th Congress,” Rahall said."

It also quotes CNMI guest worker champion, Representative George Miller:

“Although it was clear to nearly everyone that the CNMI’s system was broken and unfair, it took a Democratic Congress to end this sordid chapter in American history. This new law responds to recommendations from the Bush Administration, the Clinton administration, the INS, the Commission on Immigration Reform, human rights activists, and many others. This law will usher in a new, safer and more just era for the Northern Mariana Islands, and for the men and women who live and work there,” he said.

The Washington Post blog missed the significance of the signing, and the impact on the islands and guest worker population, focusing the entire article on the Abramoff scandal:

"One of disgraced former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff's biggest clients -- the tiny Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific just north of Guam -- has lost its 20-year fight to remain exempt from U.S. immigration and labor laws."

The Washington Post carried an AP story by Matthew Daly:

"Workers in the Mariana Islands will receive the protection of U.S. labor law under a bill signed Thursday by President Bush."

The article quotes Governor Fitial:

The commonwealth's governor, Benigno Fitial, criticized the new law, saying it doesn't reflect recent government steps to end labor abuses. He also complained that turning over immigration and guest worker controls to bureaucrats 8,500 miles away in Washington would impede efforts to attract outside investment to revive the islands' faltering economy.

The new law "will do serious damage to our economy _ increasing the likelihood that we will remain in an economic depression for many years to come," Fitial said, adding that he is considering challenging the law in court.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wrote an article calling the passage of the law to a defeat for Jack Abramoff and his friends:

"President Bush today signed a bill that overwhelmingly passed both houses of Congress to extend U.S. labor law to the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. In the most notorious Washington lobbying scandal in recent history, the islands hired jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff to represent them in opposing the change, and Abramoff enlisted the help of Republican members of Congress including Bob Schaffer, who carried out a strategy that had been literally designed by Abramoff himself.

“The exploitation of workers on the Mariana islands comes to a close today, but only because Congress finally rejected attempts by jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his crony Bob Schaffer to allow the human rights abuses to continue,” DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller said. “Abramoff was able to delay this much-needed reform for years by corruptly influencing the Republican Congress, but with Abramoff safely behind bars and Schaffer safely at home in Colorado, it finally passed this year. Now that an overwhelming bipartisan majority and the president have endorsed this reform, maybe Bob Schaffer will apologize for his shameful assistance of a corrupt lobbyist who was helping the factories exploit their workers.”

Paul Kiel from Talking Points Memo pointed out that Bob Schaffer won't get a chance to use the CNMI guest worker program as a model, since it will no longer exist:
"Unfortunately for Bob Schaffer, it doesn't look like the U.S. will be adopting the guest worker system from the Norther Marianas as a model any time soon."