Moments Ago President Bush
Signed S. 2739 into law!
This 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. It is a momentous victory for the guest workers in the CNMI. It is a personal victory for me, and for my family.
As an advocate who has worked on passing this legislation for almost 2 decades, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the members of the U.S Congress, especially to the members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the House Committee on Natural Resources, and their dedicated staff members. They devoted hundreds of hours of hard work, untiring perseverance, and self-less determination to see this issue resolved.
Some members of Congress and staff members including Congressman George Miller (D-CA), Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and Allen Stayman have pushed for effective reform for over a decade in a fight that has been difficult and fraught with obstacles. Some of the strongest proponents of this legislation have been personally vilified, attacked, libeled, and have even have lost jobs because of their conviction and determination to extend just and democratic laws to the CNMI. Yet, they stood their ground and continued the battle. The late Congresswoman Patsy Mink (D-HI) fought vehemently for immigration and labor reform in the CNMI. She is the one member of Congress who answered every e-mail, and replied to every letter that I sent to her with a handwritten personal note. Thank you also to Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), CNMI Washington Representative Pete A. Tenorio, Congressman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), Congresswoman Donna Christian-Christensen (D-VI), Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), and Congressional staffers Tony Babauta, Brian Modeste, Josh Johnson, Ben Miller, Marie Howard, and Rich Stanton.
There are advocates and human rights organizations who helped to educate the public and officials on this issue, and who have worked to get this bill passed who should be thanked and applauded. Dennis Greenia, who some know as dengre from the Daily Kos, is a dear friend and fellow advocate. He never saw the faces of the guest workers, yet he educated thousands of Americans of their plight and disenfranchisement through his posts on the Daily Kos. He spent hundreds of hours working with me, communicating with members of Congress, and assisting the guest workers through his writing and efforts to get other human rights groups including Co-op America on board to assist.
Committed clergy and staff from The Sisters of the Good Shepherds, Guma Esperansa, and the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa have worked tirelessly to assist victims of human trafficking, have educated the public on the human trafficking problem in the CNMI, and have worked for solutions.
Since the 1990's others have worked to institute meaningful reform in the CNMI - Dr. Eddie del Rosario, David Cohen, Danny Aranza, Phil Kaplan, Jess Varela, Global Survival Network, Sweatshop Watch, Filipino Coalition for Solidarity, Aloha Medical Mission, Filipino Community of Guam, Federation of Asian People of Guam, and dozens of friends and employees from the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Interior, and other federal agencies. Not to mention, the numerous CNMI workers' groups, attorneys, and residents who supported and fought for federalization. Most importantly, the guest workers, themselves who over the last couple year found their voices!
Our work is not done. We still need to address the issue of federal permanent status for the long-term guest workers. Now that the bill is signed, I will be carrying the petition from the guest workers to Washington, D.C. that requests green card status for the legal CNMI long-term guest workers. The guest workers have gotten over 5,000 signatures and are still working to get more.
We have to work to monitor the progress on setting policies to ensure that they are in the best interest of every person who calls the CNMI their home. Everyone deserves to have a seat at the table in negotiations, including representatives and advocates of the guest worker community.
It is time for the CNMI government to work in unity with the federal government to set the CNMI on a path towards prosperity; to work to unify all of the people who call the CNMI home.
Best wishes to all of the guest workers and their families on Saipan, Rota, and Tinian! I am with you in spirit today as you celebrate this victory in unity!
Read the White House Press Release on the previous post.
UPDATE -From Congressman George Miller:
Miller Statement on Signing of Northern Mariana Islands Immigration Reform into Law
WASHINGTON, DC – 5/8/08 – U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee who has sought reform of the laws governing the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) for more than 15 years, issued the following statement today on the President’s signing into law a bill that will finally bring the CNMI under the federal immigration system governing the rest of the country.
“The problems with the old way of doing business in the Northern Marianas were legion — for many years, this system and its exploiters did great harm to guestworkers and their families, and the islands’ society and economy have been stifled as well. Those who profited from this exploitation depended on the notorious and corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his many supporters in Congress who blocked reform for over a decade.
“The Abramoff scandal was the poster child for Republican corruption in Washington and was a significant reason for Republicans losing control of the House in the 2006 election, and the Northern Mariana Islands and its sweatshop owners were among Abramoff’s most lucrative clients.
“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.”
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific, was granted a special waiver from federal immigration laws in 1986 when it entered into a covenant with the U.S. Government to govern its population and run its own economy. When the islands became a center for the garment industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the loose immigration laws in the CNMI were exploited to bring in thousands of unregulated garment workers under false pretexts and no accountability. Concerns were raised that the loose immigration laws also allowing for narcotics trafficking and other illegal activity. Extensive investigations and reporting has occurred regarding the exploitation of workers and other problems in the CNMI, including:
"Beneath the American Flag: Labor and Human Rights Abuses in the CNMI" -- Report from George Miller and the Democratic Staff of the House Resources Committee (March 26, 1998 Report) (pdf file)
"Economic Miracle or Economic Mirage? The Human Cost of Development in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands" -- Report from George Miller and the Democratic Staff of the House Resources Committee (April 24, 1997 Report) (pdf file)
There have been many efforts to reform the Mariana Islands' immigration and labor policies in the last decade, none of which were brought to the floor of the House under Republican leadership. A partial listing of those earlier bills is available online.
Additional background information from 2006.
Rahall, Christensen Applaud Signing of CNMI Immigration, Delegate Bill
May 8, 2008
CONTACT: Allyson Groff or Blake Androff, 202-226-9019
Washington, D.C. - House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) and Subcommittee on Insular Affairs Chairwoman Donna M. Christensen (D-VI) released the following statements commemorating the President's signing into law earlier today of the Consolidated Natural Resources At of 2008 (S. 2739), which contains provisions that will extend U.S. immigration laws to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and authorize a CNMI non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives:
"Enactment of this bill ushers in a new era for the people of the CNMI - one that promises closer cooperation and greater consultation among the territory, the Federal government, and the U.S. Congress. 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.
"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.
Applaud Enactment of Protections for Mariana Workers
Washington, D.C. - Catholics United today welcomed President Bush's signing into law of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008. This legislation includes a provision that will bring the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) under the protection of federal immigration laws, effectively putting an end to years of rampant human rights abuses within the territory. The Department of the Interior and Catholic advocates in the CMNI have documented extensive worker exploitation associated with an infusion of low-paid immigrant workers, including allegations of forced abortions.
Today's victory comes despite the work of former U.S. Congressman Bob Schaffer of Colorado, who has recently come under scrutiny for participating in a 1999 junket paid for by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Following this trip, Schaffer - who served on the House Resources Committee - led an effort to discredit the testimony of abused workers in the Northern Mariana Islands. His roadblocking ultimately delayed the passage of today's legislation for almost a decade.
In 2007, representatives from Guma Esperanza-House of Hope shelter of battered women in the Mariana Islands, including representatives of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd testified before a Senate committee on the rampant abuse of women on the island. One Catholic nun told explained that the then-existing labor and immigration regulation "effectively created a permanent underclass of disenfranchised persons."
"As Catholics, we believe that all workers have inherent human dignity, including a right to fair wages, humane working conditions, and respect on the job," said Sister Peg Maloney, RSM, a Catholics United member from Denver. "We are thankful today that the efforts of Bob Schaffer and Jack Abramoff to deny workers in the Northern Mariana Islands basic human dignity in the workplace did not prevail."