Another Interim Labor Report Sent to CNMI Legislature

January 5, 2009


The CNMI Department of Labor has issued the 7th Interim Labor Report to the CNMI Legislature.  The department, which has lost credibility in the eyes of legislators, advocates, guest workers, federal officials, and others, continues to issue reports, but fails to reply to persons who have genuine questions or concerns.  The DOL continues questionable practices and retains a questionable "volunteer."

The latest report is presumed to have been written by the department volunteer and ghost writer, Deanne Siemer, although it was again issued under the name of Deputy Secretary Cinta Kaipat. It focuses on the issue of overstaying guest workers and the department's "overstayer project." 

Like most of the recent reports issued by CNMI agencies and the Fitial Administration, such as the October 2008 McPhee-Conway economic report, it appears to have been written to support the federal lawsuit and to back the Fitial Administration's agenda with the federal government. In this case the major claim is that the local system can accurately track illegal aliens, hence no need for federalization.  

The report supports previous statements made by Fitial Administration including the testimony of Lt. Governor Timothy Villagomez at the February 2007 Senate Hearing, and the declarations submitted in support of the Fitial Federalization Fighters lawsuit against the federal government. Fitial himself used the great tracking system as an argument against federalization as quoted in a February 2007 Saipan Tribune article:
If anything, the Fitial administration has this to say to the U.S. Senate on the immigration issue: We can operate our own immigration system that is satisfactory to the federal government.

“The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has demonstrated that it has the institutional capability to administer an effective system of immigration control and has demonstrated a genuine commitment to enforce such a system,” said the administration in its response to the inquiry by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

It said the CNMI's “hallmark of [commitment] has been the implementation of a computerized arrival and departure tracking system.”

It said that in 1999, the CNMI used a manual process to record the entry of tourists and contract workers and that data on U.S. citizens were not maintained at all. Since 2003, “every single traveler has been recorded and the differences between arrival and departure numbers represent people staying in or leaving the Commonwealth.”

The administration report further said that “the CNMI immigration system is a dynamic program that is diligently reviewed and revised according to applicable laws and regulations, to protect the people of the CNMI and the U.S. as we sic maintain a mindful watch on national security concerns.”
And from Governor Fitial's August 2007 testimony:
The Commonwealth's commitment and institutional ability to maintain an effective system of immigration control is evidenced by its implementation of a computerized arrival and departure tracking system. Financed by the federal government, the Border Management System has been fully operational since 2003, with the entry and departure of each traveler recorded. The Commonwealth also operates the Labor and Immigration Identification System, which records the immigration entry permits to the various classes of immigrants entering the CNMI. We are currently reevaluating these computerized systems to determine whether their components should be updated or replaced to reflect the advances in technology over the past decade. Even within their limitations, however, these systems give local immigration officials controls that their federal counterparts do not have.
The report argues that previous statements about the number of overstaying aliens in the thousands were inaccurate. It claims that there were an estimated number to 624 "overstayers" from the years 2003 to 2007.  It also states the remarkable figure of 25 overstayers for the first quarter of 2008.  I find that number to be ridiculously low.  

The governor remarked in his testimony at the August 2007 House Hearing, "Most of the people you saw outside are illegals. We are processing them for prosecution and deportation." While we know that the protesters outside of the hearing were not illegals, there are illegals who remain a part of the CNMI's underground, and they include former garment workers who have resorted to being prostitutes because they could not find legal work.  (Fitial's statement was however, an accurate reflection of the sentiments of his administration,  and demonstrated his general attitude towards guest workers.)

In a May 1, 2006 Saipan Tribune article, the governor made these remarks about overstayers (emphasis added):
The Fitial administration will deport or repatriate guest workers who hold temporary work authorizations as part of efforts to stop the widespread illegal employment in the CNMI.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial described this group of workers as “legitimate illegal workers.”

He said he does not have the exact number of these illegal workers but said there are more than 3,000 people with TWAs.

“There [are] more than 3,000 [of them]. Those are the legitimate illegals,” said Fitial during a news briefing Friday. “We are going to stop these illegal activities.”

While not exactly ruling out legitimate labor cases, Fitial said there have been TWA “abuses” such as filing of “spurious” complaints, which include grounds like “I don't like my supervisor.”

He cited that there are workers who have been holding TWAs not temporarily but almost permanently-for years.

He said the previous estimate of illegal aliens was placed at about 2,000.


“There's no official estimate but we have a lot more than before,” he said.
Sister Mary Stella Mangona testified at the February 2007 Senate Hearing also alleging a large population of overstayers in the CNMI.  She stated:
The long-term "temporary" alien workers described above are here legally; their contracts are regularly renewed, or they transfer to new employers and the proper papers are filed to establish new contracts. But what about those workers whose contracts are not renewed? The expectation of the non-resident employee system would be for all workers to return to their home countries upon the conclusion of their contracts. The employer of record is required to provide the return ticket. There is, however, a 45-day grace period during which the individual can seek to transfer to another employer. Perhaps during the boom years of economic expansion, this provision worked effectively. When there were plenty of jobs to be found, displaced workers could find new legal employers. The system is definitely not working well now. It is difficult for anyone to find a new job. Many people "go underground" by the end of the 45 days. They do not report to their original employer for the ticket back. They become over-staying aliens subject to deportation, essentially hiding in plain sight. They eke out an existence, and they stay, sometimes for years. A peculiar problem arises when an over-staying alien happens to die in the Commonwealth. Who is responsible for the funeral or repatriation of the body? I have personally known of three such cases where the body stayed in the morgue for months because nobody claimed responsibility and there was no mechanism to assign it.

There does not appear to be any reliable answer to the question of how many undocumented persons currently reside in the Commonwealth. The Department of Labor recently published a list of 1,001 names, but it included some who have already departed and others who can prove that they have legal status. My Filipino clients and friends have also informed me that they know of many "illegals" whose names do not appear on the list. What does this imply about the accuracy of the tracking system?
Indeed, the lists have been inaccurate. From a February 2007 Saipan Tribune editorial:
The presence of illegal alien workers on the islands has been one of the more mystifying aspects of the labor and immigration situation here in the CNMI. For such as small community, with relatively secure exit and entry points, the presence of illegal aliens is a baffling phenomenon...
The fact that some names were mistakenly included on the list is indeed troubling, and some quarters are already questioning the legal implications of the list and whether what Labor did is legal or not. Be that as it may, it could only lead to a better list. With current technological advances, I don't see any major obstacle toward this end. A computer program that matches Immigration records with Labor records should be easy to fashion. Wasn't that the point of the $720,000 Department of the Interior grant in 2004 for the automation of the labor and immigration information system? Prior to that, in 2003, the CNMI got $355,000, also from the Interior and also for the same purpose. That's more than a million dollars spent just for the automation system at Labor and the Division of Immigration. (You'd think that, with that much spent on the system, Immigration should have already alerted Labor to the number of alien workers who have actually already left the islands but were still on the list, yet I know of three whose names were on the list but who are now, in fact, in Houston, London and Canada.)

If there is anything that came out of this mix-up, it is the need for more efficient collaboration between Labor and Immigration, so that mistakes like this one are minimized, if not altogether eliminated. The list's initial publication and the mistakes attendant to it were almost inevitable, given that this was the first time it was made public but Labor and Immigration should get better at this during subsequent publications. They have already flushed out those who, based on their records, are illegal aliens but are actually legally staying here in the Commonwealth. This will narrow down the list to the actual illegals, giving both agencies a better grip on the ones they need to track down and deport. 
This editorial is spot-on in all points the Saipan Tribune editor highlighted:  1.  Overstayer lists that DOL has issued have repeatedly been inaccurate.  2. The CNMI was given federal funds to establish an accurate tracking system.  In spite of this, there continues to be overstayers in the CNMI. 3. The Department of Labor and Division of Immigration lack coordinating efforts in tracking illegals and maintaining records.  The local system is faulty.

The DOL report gives the history of the local immigration tracking systems that have been used since Trust Territory times up to the present. From the honorable words of notorious former DOLI Secretary and now indicted criminal, Mark Zachares as quoted in the Saipan Tribune:
According to Mr. Zachares, the department will hook up with federal agencies, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as well as Interpol to boost the ability of the CNMI to keep away undesirable aliens.

Because it also records departures, he said aliens who are overstaying can be traced easily and their number can be established much more accurately.

"We will be able to use it as an effective law enforcement tool," the DOLI secretary added.

Funded through a $1.5 million grant from the Office of Insular Affairs, the computerized tracking system is a component of LIIDS which the CNMI government vouched in 1995 to improve handling of local immigration.

Some U.S. lawmakers and federal officials have cited the archaic system at the ports of entry here as reason to extend federal immigration laws to the islands.
The report lacks some essential information.  
The report does not state how many people considered illegal aliens have been deported from the CNMI over the history of the system they described.   Although DOL has been issuing and publishing "overstayer lists",   the report does not state that the lists have resulted in catching overstayers (formally called illegal aliens) or in any deportations.  In fact they state:
All foreign worker overstayers who arrived in the Commonwealth from 2003 through 2007 have been identified; overstayer lists for each year have been published; vetted, and shall be certified to the Immigration Division no later than early January. The final combined overstayer list from this Phase II project was published on December 1, 2008 and again on December 8, 2008. The final list will be certified to the Immigration Division no later than early January.
As of January 2009, the Department of Labor has not coordinated with the Division of Immigration in any action to be taken against overstayers. The system is faulty at best. In fact, in the background section of the report it is stated that, "Aliens currently in the Commonwealth arrived legally. There are no readily available illegal routes into the Commonwealth. A person must take an airplane or ship to get to the Commonwealth, as the distances between the Commonwealth and other countries are great." For that reason there should be no illegal aliens in the CNMI.

The system of notifying people by means of publication is also mentioned in the report:
Each person who is identified as an overstayer is notified of that determination by publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the Commonwealth once in each of two successive weeks. Any person identified as an overstayer erroneously (whose documentation allows continued stay in the Commonwealth) is given 30 days to report to the appropriate office with the documentation necessary to correct the error.
Not everyone reads the newspapers, and for those "overstayers" who are truly illegal without TWAs or other documents, the list may serve the purpose of alerting them to go further underground.  

It should be noted that there are CNMI residents who take advantage of guest workers who have been terminated by previous employers and are looking for transfers.  Some have hired the unemployed guest workers "off the books" without a contract or benefits, with the promise that they will keep the status quiet if they work for them until they can offer a legitimate position.  Others survive by working day jobs for a variety of employers, hoping they will find a permanent employer.  Some guest workers have trusted potential employers who said that they would "fix their papers" and later they discovered that the papers were not processed and their status became illegal.  Still others are scammed into jobs in the CNMI by illegal recruiters and enter under tourist visas, only to learn the promised job didn't  exist.  

The last paragraph of the report states:
Coordination With the Legislature: The Department would like to work closely with all legislators to deal quickly with any problems that constituents may have with our processes. Send me an e-mail at depsec2@gmail.com or call me at 236-0908, and I will direct it to the proper person and follow up personally to be sure things get done. If you need information or have questions, please let me know. I am here to work with you as efficiently as I can.
Perhaps then, the department should respond to letters and emails from CNMI Representatives and others.  Representative Tina Sablan has sent several letters and/or emails with questions  to the department and has received no response or a response to selected questions. (Unless you count the latest letter that department volunteer, Deanne Siemer sent "as a joke.") I also sent a certified, return receipt letter in May 2008 to Secretary San Nicolas and Director Hirshbien and I received no response. Additionally, guest workers have reported that they too have written letters with comments and inquiries to DOL, and they also received no response.  The last paragraph may look good on paper, but I question the sincerity.

Finally, the report is requesting still more federal funds.  It reads in three places:
Phase I of the project, which involves quarterly reviews to identify overstayers, is now funded under the Department’s regular annual budgets. The funding for Phase II of the project, which involves a review of the records for the years 2003-2007 to identify overstayers, was included in the FY 2008 budget. That part of the project has been completed and the list will be certified to the Immigration Division on December 31, 2008. The funding for Phases III and IV, to review older records, has not yet been secured. The Department has no funding for these projects in its FY 2009 budget and recommends that funding be sought from OIA or DHS for this purpose so that these projects can be completed before June 1, 2009.

The cost for processing and quality checking these records to produce overstayer lists for these seven years is approximately $45,000. Staffing for this part of the project will require overtime from Department staff and part-time staffing with knowledgeable contract personnel. Because of budgetary and staffing cutbacks, the Department does not have the current staff time to undertake this project during normal work hours.

The cost for processing and quality checking these records to produce overstayer lists for these eleven years is approximately $57,000. Staffing this project will require overtime from Department staff and part-time staffing with knowledgeable contract personnel. Because of budgetary and staffing cutbacks, the Department does not have the current staff time to undertake this project during normal work hours.
I think the federal government needs to say no, no, no to any future funding for the CNMI until this government is more fiscally accountable and responsible. This is a government that is suing the federal government at a cost of $50,000 a month in attorney's fees, and will not reveal the source of the funding. They obviously can find funding sources when they want to. Last year the Office of Insular Affairs gave them over $100,000 to hire consultants to produce a piece of propaganda masked as an economic report that was used to fuel Fitial's federal lawsuit. As a taxpayer I do not appreciate my money being spent in this way.

Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Insular Affairs would be better off paying a private consultant of their choice or getting one of their own employees to do this work so they could get an inside view of the department, familiarize themselves with the local system, and get a true and accurate report of records.   

7 comments:

The Actor said...

If the Department of Labor doesn’t finish its overstayer accountability project now (with federal funds), the Department of Homeland Security will spend many more taxpayer dollars dealing with those undocumented workers who are not simply victims of a poor economy but, rather, who have been deliberately flouting the law and have been expressly made deportable by Public Law 110-229, 48 U.S.C. § 1806(e)(3)-(5) (registration, removable aliens, prior orders of removal).

wendy said...

I don't trust DOL to finish an accurate accountability report with or without federal funds. If the CNMI government has money for trips, for a federal lawsuit, then they can find the money for this project. I am not arguing that any truly illegal aliens should be deported.

The Actor said...

I know you have a visceral distrust for anything associated with the Fitial administration, but this is important data.

For instance, here are the number of foreign national worker (FNW) entry permits issued each year since 1989, taken from the latest report and culled from a Marianas Variety article about it today. (I wish the reporter had just left it in tabular form.)

1989 - 18,411
1990 - 21,857
1991 - 25,143
1992 - 23,029
1993 - 22,766
1994 - 22,560
1995 - 24,301
1996 - 26,039
1997 - 36,566
1998 - 26,411
1999 - 31,905
2000 - 38,520
2001 - 30,957
2002 - 29,455
2003 - 29,380
2004 - 36,405
2005 - 33,292
2006 - 27,506
2007 - 17,120
2008 - 16,576 (3/4 year; 22,000 federal cap)

Several things stand out. Through the mid 1990s, the FNW population was fairly stable in the low 20,000s. Recall that there was a ban on Republic of the Philippines citizens deploying to the CNMI around 1994-95 due to the refusal of Governor Froilan C. Tenorio to mandate POEA compliance as a condition for FNW contracts in the CNMI.

In 1997 we had a huge spike, from 26K to 36K. This was a time of terrible corruption and fraud, with headlines of hundreds of victimized aliens here for non-existent jobs. It caught national and Congressional attention, too, with Clinton’s federalization proposal and your own report the next year.

In 1998 and 1999, things went back down to somewhat normal (at some point, due to international attention, there was a local freeze on the number of garment workers), but in 2000 under DoLI Secretary Mark Zachares, we reached an all-time high of 38-1/2K FNWs.

Things levelled off in 2001-03 at around 29K to 30K foreign national workers, before a final spike in the waning days of the Babauta administration and the garment industry’s last hurrah of 36K in 2004 as things were “pretty darn good” and 33K in 2005.

Then came the “bitter times” in 2006 as the garment industry shut down with no viable replacement.

Notably, the three peak years for FNWs were 1997 (36,566); 2000 (38,520); and 2004 (36,405).

There is a lot more that can be done with these numbers. For instance, it would be interesting to have parallel columns of all CNMI garment industry gross revenues, and CNMI government budget expenditures, and NMIRF contributions. When considering the employment and unemployment statistics, the DoL hypothesis does seem to have validity about the relatively low number of overstayers now.

Who would want to stay here under such circumstances, if they had viable options?

While you look askance at DoL because of the Section 903 lawsuit, that same motive would actually make DoL do their best work right now, because they want to prove they can get things right, and if the lawsuit fails, try to get jobs with the federal “CNMI labor.”

So everyone has the motive to create a valid data base. Given the lack of statistics by the U.S. Department of Commerce Census Bureau, we need them. Distrust of the messenger is no reason to interfere with progress that will help FNW and the local working class alike.

Similarly, though you may distrust Administration numbers, they are subject to review by the impartial Public Auditor.

The Section 903 Lawsuit funding numbers will likewise be out soon enough, as soon as the case is decided. See 1 CMC § 9918(a)(8).

wendy said...

Actor

Your accounting of the years and circumstances is pretty accurate. (The ban from the Philippines was a direct result of efforts and requests made by my husband and me while meeting with cabinet members, OWA and POEA officials, personnel at the US Embassy, and the former president in 1994.) I am not arguing with those figures at all.

I do not "look askance at DoL because of the Section 903 lawsuit." DOL has been a dysfunctional and corrupt agency since my first dealings with them in the 1980's. We could also make a chart of the unjust actions DOL has perpetuated over the years. The chart would show the worst years as 1994 - 1998, and of course the Speaker Fitial-Zachares-Kara years of the deportation center, raids on guest workers' private homes, and the Abramoff-CNMI corruption, dirty tricks, and schemes.

I do not take seriously an agency or government that allows hundreds of guest workers to be ripped off to the tune of $6.1 million and more. I do not respect an agency that plays games and disrespects elected officials, an agency that has a planted a political volunteer that pull the strings, an agency that responds to inquiries not at all or selectively, an agency represented by someone who has made biased and prejudiced statements about guest workers. DOL has little or no credibility.

Again, I am not arguing about the number of permits issued. My argument is with the "overstayer" numbers.

Statistics and any information is valuable and I am not arguing that either. I absolutely do not trust DOL, a department run and manipulated by the Fitial Administration, to take my tax dollars (federal money) and write a truthful report or statistics whether an auditor will review them or not. The "overstayer" lists that have been issued are inaccurate -there are people on them who do not belong and others who really are "overstayers" who don't make the lists!

An outside consultant approved and appointed by DOI, DHS or the US Department of Labor could be hired to that job with federal funds and start now. The report said they do not have the personnel and need to hire someone. If not let the CNMI hire their own person with their own local funds.

Do you think that the figure of 25 "overstayers" quoted in the report is accurate? The report stated, "Our published list for the first quarter of 2008 showed 25 overstayers."

Regardless, the CNMI can find its own money to complete this project. If the CNMI government has $50,000 a month for a futile lawsuit, for trips to China, Washington, Korea, Japan, then it can come up with the money for this project.

Anonymous said...

There are more of legal workers that became illegals when there renewals, transfer or new hire application have been disapproved due to the following: 1.) during a renewal of an foreign worker, another worker recommended by DOL force businesses to hire or else...(therefore an alien denied, but shortly that worker failed to continue work so business suffer, I rather close my business if I cannot hire whom I want, a case of a displaced worker who chose to stay and become illegal)
2.) not enough money for the employer to hire (this should not always be the reason to deny, I knew a lot of employers who are honest and paying worker regularly even business is slow, no money in the bank so cannot hire, but some even borrow cash to deposit just to show they have money in the bank and can hire!)
3.) too many red tape that a small business cannot afford to wait until the worker can actually work (it is difficult to pay your office or establishment while waiting for the approval of permits, a waiting worker can work illegally to survive)
4.) to expensive of permit applications.
5.) most of these illegals have collectibles and nobody helping them legally instead DOL is sending them home.
6.) and so on and on and on.
If they give all these illegals and employer hard time then illegals keep increasing. Since the economy is slow, DOL should approve their permit even though they work less than 40 hrs as long as they want, so that they can afford to pay a small fraction of tax and buy food and probably save for plane ticket. I think this is better than hiding, do you think they can afford to buy plane ticket in hiding? I knew some people who voluntary went to the immigration to ask for deportation and ticket but instead told them to find a job. How can they find a job if problems I mentioned above exist?

wendy said...

Anonymous:

You are absolutely correct. I personally met more than 25 people in exactly the situations you posted. I also know some who went to DOL and were told there was no money to deport them. ( Actually DOL does not have a deportation fund -the Division of Immigration does and no one could find out how much money was in it.)

Cinta even helped me to get one employer to get a ticket for a guest worker who was simply stuck in Saipan because his employer would not give him a ticket and he had been trying for weeks. (She got the employer to get a ticket)

You are right that there should be some flexibility. Another question is why are new alien workers continually being brought in when there are qualified guest workers in the CNMI looking for jobs? Is it because they want long-term workers to exit?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the above mentioned comment should be forwarded to the FBI team that is debriefing Mark Zachares...I am pretty sure he made a ton of money for all those additional labor applications approved by his office.

If he can take from Jack, what's stopping him from taking from Lito and Abdul?