More Written Testimony

June 5, 2009




MAY 19, 2009

Thank you for the opportunity to present my views as written testimony for this oversight hearing. One year ago this month, Public Law 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act was signed into law. While it is not the law that human rights advocates and foreign contract workers were hoping for, it is a major step forward in ending decades of human rights and labor abuses, and restoring the reputation of the United States in the Pacific region. It signifies an opportunity to finally put an end to the broken local labor and immigration system under which foreign contract workers are indentured and disenfranchised.

The Congressional intent, as stated in the law, was to ensure effective border control and security by extending the INA with special provisions for phasing out contract workers; minimizing adverse economic effects; recognizing local self-government; assisting the development of the CNMI economy; providing opportunities for locals to work; providing for the continued use of alien workers as necessary; and protecting workers from abuse. As a human rights advocate, I am especially concerned with ensuring protection and security for the long-term foreign contract workers and other nonresidents who live and work in the CNMI, and for the safety and well-being of the U.S. citizen children of nonresident parents.

Decisions being made in Washington will directly impact the CNMI nonresidents who make up a majority of the adult population and represent 70 percent of all workers in the private sector. Even though the guest workers were never promised a pathway to citizenship when they began their employment in the CNMI, they certainly have earned one. Few of them suspected when they left their homelands that they would be asked to renew their contracts year, after year, after year. Their valuable skills were essential to the CNMI economy, and most were invited to stay. Over the years, they sold their property and broke all ties with their homelands.

The nonresidents are deeply rooted in the CNMI community, with many having lived there 5, 10, 20, even 30 or more years. The majority of them have families and U.S. citizen children. They pay taxes. They perform community service and are members of churches and community organizations. Yet, they are given no vote, no representation, and no voice in decision-making. They deserve to have their voices heard in Washington, which is why I have spoken on their behalf for two decades and why I will continue to speak for them until the United States Congress grants them a pathway to citizenship and they are provided with political and social rights.

Currently, regulations for a transitional federal guest worker program are being drafted. It will not be enough to merely change the name of the guest worker program from the CNMI guest worker program to the federal guest worker program. The program must be totally revamped to ensure that unjust policies and regulations that have plagued the current local system are eliminated within the new federal program. The existing system is based on an economic model that steals labor. It is the closest system to slavery allowed to flourish under the American flag since 1864 and it is un-American.

The CNMI government is not asking the federal government to fix this broken system, but to endorse and continue it. They have fought to hang on to this system for decades by hiring lobbyists to block legislation, and more recently by filing a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia to block the implementation of PL 110-229. The federal transitional guest worker program must reflect democratic and constitutional principles that are lacking in the current local system. A just guest worker program requires ongoing oversight, adequately trained and staffed offices, and strict enforcement of all labor and immigration laws. The current CNMI program stands as a barrier to social justice and economic prosperity.

There is grave concern among guest workers, advocates, attorneys and others who support true reform that the ones responsible for establishing and promoting the unjust CNMI labor system are the ones who are working closely with federal officials to draft policy. The guest workers and their advocates are asking for the opportunity to provide input on the regulations during the period that they are being drafted to ensure that the flaws and injustices of the CNMI system are finally ended. A seat at the table would allow the nonresidents a voice in regulations that will directly impact their future and the future of their US citizen children. DOI Federal Labor Ombudsman Pamela Brown, attorneys who represent the guest workers in labor cases, advocates, and the guest workers should be given a voice in this process along with representatives from the CNMI government and U.S. Congressman Gregorio Sablan.

In December 2007 and January 2008 I worked with the Federal Labor Ombudsman to collect CNMI Department of Labor administrative orders representing $6.1 million in unpaid judgments from cheated guest workers. This amount represents only a fraction of what unscrupulous employers owe to the total number of workers who were robbed of their wages. Over the last three decades thousands of workers returned to their homelands without receiving the money that was owed to them. The consequences of the CNMI officials failing to provide an avenue for victims of labor abuses to obtain justice and failing to prosecute abusive employers cannot be understated. In 2007, a despondent man died after he set himself on fire outside the CNMI Department of Labor. He had visited the office to try to collect unpaid wages, and was told he must depart the CNMI without them. Other guest workers have been, and continue to be, mistreated and exploited through illegal recruitment scams, human trafficking, contract violations, illegal deductions and unpaid wages.

Corruption bears a human cost. It bears a financial cost for taxpayers. It bears a moral cost for our country. We cannot allow even a shadow of this unjust system to continue. We must infuse the basic American values of civil and human rights, due process, and fairness for all into the federal program. At this time there is an opportunity to create a transitional federal guest worker program that could serve as an exemplary model for the entire nation as we move forward to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation. As the Congress considers granting permanent status to illegal aliens in the U.S. mainland, how can they deny the legal nonresident workers of the CNMI the same consideration? The time to grant them status is long overdue.

An important intent of the CNRA was to bring the CNMI immigration policies into conformity with the policies applicable to the rest of the United States. Thus, those foreign workers legally admitted into the United States to work, whether in the U.S. mainland or the CNMI, should be provided with a pathway to become U.S. citizens with full political and social rights. Foreigners invited to our shores to work and build our economy should be regarded as future citizens rather than replaceable commodities.

Within the CNRA is a provision stating that “The Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Governor of the Commonwealth, shall report to the Congress not later than 2 years after the date of the enactment of the Northern Mariana Islands Immigration, Security, and Labor Act. The report shall include the number of aliens residing in the Commonwealth; a description of the legal status (under Federal law) of such aliens; in five year increments, the number of years each alien has been residing in the Commonwealth; the current and future requirements for the Commonwealth economy of an alien workforce; and recommendations to the Congress related to granting alien workers lawfully present in the Commonwealth on the date of the enactment of such Act United States citizenship or some other permanent legal status.” The groundwork and data collection for that report should be started immediately so that it can be thoughtfully considered without further delay.

There are thousands of nonresident parents of U.S. citizen children residing in the CNMI who live every day in fear of not being renewed, and facing the prospect of returning to their homelands where they have no property, or job prospects. Some have already been repatriated from the CNMI, leaving minor children behind. We must not allow families to be divided and torn apart. To knowingly deny U.S. citizen children of an education, needed health care, and basic necessities including shelter and food by exiling them would be an unconscionable act. To allow them to return to strange foreign lands to live a life of poverty and hardship would be immoral. The children of nonresidents are no less U.S. citizens than those born of U.S. citizen parents. Many of them serve our country in the United States Armed Forces, some in Iraq and Afghanistan. The security and well being of U.S. citizen children should not depend upon the nationality or status of their parents. No U.S. citizen child should be treated as a second-class citizen. As a nation of immigrants that values families, we must provide protection and equal rights to every one of our youngest citizens and their parents.

Aside from the nonresident parents of U.S. citizen children and long-term guest workers, there must be consideration and a secure status granted to CNMI permanent residents and their spouses, immediate relatives of United States citizens and citizens from the Federated Associated States (FAS), and widow and widowers of U.S. citizens. Asylum seekers, including the members of Falun Gong who are living in the CNMI should also be guaranteed protection.

A just and democratic federal guest worker program that regards long-term foreign workers as future citizens will benefit all who live and work in the CNMI. The current CNMI Administration has argued that PL 110-229 will leave the Commonwealth without the workforce needed to ensure economic success. However, by granting those long-term foreign workers a pathway to citizenship, a skilled and loyal workforce will be available.

Governor Fitial is asking for a one-year delay for the implementation of PL 110-229. Because the federal government was not prepared to implement the legislation on June 1, 2009 as originally planned, a 180-day delay has already been granted moving the starting date of the legislation to November 28, 2009. There must be no more delays! A further delay will prolong suffering, and perpetuate uncertainty. A further delay will adversely impact the economy of the CNMI as potential investors are waiting to see the federal regulations regarding the foreign investment and transitional federal guest worker programs.

The Congress of the United States has the responsibility to protect all people who live and work under the U.S. flag. The Congress must act immediately to identify the funds required to implement the programs to reflect the intent of the law. The Congress must urge the DHS and other agencies tasked with drafting policy and regulations, setting up offices in the CNMI and otherwise ensuring that the intent of the legislation is carried out, to move forward to meet the November 28, 2009 deadline.

I am asking for:
• The opportunity for nonresidents, guest workers, advocates, and attorneys who represent them to provide input on the regulations pertaining to the transitional federal guest worker program as they are being drafted;
• Open dialogue and communication between nonresidents and their advocates, and federal department and agency officials charged with regulating or overseeing PL 110-229;
• The protection for all categories of nonresidents during the transitional period;
• Green cards for all long-term guest workers currently in the CNMI and a pathway to citizenship for future long-term nonresident workers;
• Consideration for other categories of nonresidents including long-term nonresidents with U.S. citizen children, CNMI permanent residents and their spouses, alien spouses and children of U.S. citizens, alien spouses and children of FAS citizens, and widow and widowers of U.S. citizens to be provided permanent status so they are allowed to continue to work and live in the CNMI, and maintain family relationships.
• The U.S. Congress to identify funds needed to implement PL 110-229 and to refuse to authorize a further delay.
• The U.S. Congress to require the Departments of Interior, Homeland Security, and GAO to coordinate efforts and resources and immediately begin the process of gathering data and statistics needed to make recommendations to Congress concerning permanent status for the foreign contract workers in order to meet the stated May 2010 deadline.

For two decades I have been privileged to advocate on behalf of the foreign contract workers and the nonresidents in the CNMI. I am honored to attach as testimony for the record, letters from some of the most outstanding and valued members of the CNMI community including guest workers, U.S. citizen children of nonresident parents, CNMI permanent residents, asylum seekers, FAS citizens and immediate relatives, and U.S. citizens who support protection of the legal nonresidents during the transitional period and a pathway to citizenship for the long-term guest workers.

Attachments to be included in the record with this written testimony:

1. Letters from foreign contract workers, U.S. citizen children of nonresident parents, CNMI permanent residents, asylum seekers, FAS citizens and immediate relatives, and U.S. citizens who support improved status for long-term foreign workers and non-residents, and no delay in the implementation of PL 100-229.
2. U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Status Report, December 2008, by Wendy L. Doromal. A report that updates the current status of the alien workers in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), details issues which are relative to the imminent immigration changes, and makes recommendations for policies and regulations relating to PL 110-229.
3. CNMI Department of Labor’s Response to Wendy Doromal’s Paper dated December 2008.
4. Wendy Doromal’s Comments to DOL Deputy Secretary Cinta Kaipat’s Response to the December 2008 Status Report.


Anonymous said...

thank you!