Inauguration - At Last

Photo from AP

January 20, 2009

We joined almost 2 million people in Washington, DC to witness the inauguration in a day we will always remember. It was the largest crowd ever assembled in Washington, DC. We left at 6:30 am for the Metro Station, which was packed. Some stations were closed, but we managed to get to the security gate where we waited in a huddled mass for 2.5 hours to pass through security. There were thousands of police, military personnel, and DHS agents securing the event and thousands more in the Metro stations assisting people and controlling the flow of the crowds.

We never noticed the cold while we waited because there were so many people packed together. (And we had layers of clothes, hand warmers, and scarves.) A young man had his blackberry and led a game of "Presidential Pursuit" shouting out questions and quizzing everyone making the time pass more quickly. At one point the police told every to hold their tickets in the air and for anyone without a ticket to turn back. Everyone cheered and waved their tickets. After we cleared security, we got a perfect spot with a clear view of the ceremony, giant screen, and no people blocking the view in front of us. Behind us the crowd stretched for over two miles in the National Mall. People stood on statues and barriers for better views. Streets were closed to vehicles, but were blanketed with people.

There were distant chants from far behind us, "Obama, Obama, Obama", and "Yes we did!" The crowd cheered as President Carter, President Clinton, Senator Ted Kennedy, and Colin Powell were introduced. There was thunderous applause for Joe Bidden and family, Malia and Sasha, Michele Obama, and of course, screams and cheers for the introduction of Barack Obama. There were loud boos when President George W. Bush was introduced and people near us led the crowd in singing, "Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, goodbye." (I never boo anyone, but understand why the crowd did.)

The music was great - from the Marine Band to the choir. Aretha Franklin was amazing, and there was absolute silence when Yo-Yo Ma and the others performed a hauntingly beautiful piece.

After Barack Obama was sworn in people hugged each other, jumped up and down, cried, screamed, and waved American flags. His much anticipated inaugural speech was moving and many around us were crying as he spoke. Nani said the best part of the entire inaugural trip was hearing President Obama speak. She never took her eyes off of him. From the speech:
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
The inaugural poem, "Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander spoke to every person.

The crowd was truly diverse and representative of our American family. American Indians dressed in Native costumes banged drums. There were people in wheelchairs and on crutches. There were tiny babies wrapped in blankets and elderly who braved the cold, crowds and long lines. Families drove from New England and California. Everyone expressed a vision of optimism and hope for our country.

I talked to an elderly woman from illinois who was dressed in a full length fur coat and dressy hat. She told me she was thrilled to be witnessing the moment when Dr. King's dream came true. We met people from all over the country and listened to their stories, hopes and dreams. All wanted to be there to witness history.

Leaving the Inauguration was a challenge. We shuffled behind thousands of people over the streets littered with paper, lost scarves and gloves towards the Federal Center Metro Station. It took over two hours to get inside the station! Three trains too over-crowded to take more passengers left the station before we finally could squeeze into one. The Metro reported that over 1 million passengers rode trains, breaking the record set the previous day.

It took over an hour to get to the airport because so many streets were closed. We just made our plane!

Read what world leaders had to say about the inauguration.

Thank you again to our special friend for the tickets (Nani adores you and said you look like Richard Geer), to Nousher, and to Mozhid for the wonderful hospitality, gifts and kindness.

I took more video than photos, but here are a few photos:

Inauguration Celebration

January 19, 2009

More people are flowing into Washington, DC for the inauguration. The Metro was so crowded that in the afternoon there was no room on the platform and people had to wait for a train that wasn't filled to capacity. Union Station was also incredibly crowded. We bought lunch there, but there were no tables so we ate on a park bench outside the Capitol. The squirrels came and begged for food from Nani.

On every street there are people selling Obama memorabilia - pins, flags, calendars, bobble heads, hats, sweaters, sweatshirts, scarves, bracelets, bumper stickers, beads, blankets, prints, earrings, and more. Almost everyone is wearing a pin or Obama clothing.

Today we went to the Botanical Gardens, Union Station, the National Mall and Capitol . We saw a long line of people waiting outside the Canon Office Building to get their inaugural tickets and lots of happy people walking with their large envelopes.

The best part of the day was having dinner with Tina Sablan and her friend at a Burmese restaurant in Chinatown.

Happy Birthday to Congressman Kilili Sablan!

Some photos:

The Celebration Begins

January 19, 2009

Nani and I are in Washington, DC for the inauguartion celebrations. There is excitment and jubilation in the city! Some streets are closed to traffic, but they are filled with people. It is cold and crowded, but almost everyone is smiling and celebrating. The city is energized.

We met our friend, Nousher Jaheti, who was once a foreign contract worker in Saipan and is now living in Washington, DC. We had a wonderful breakfast and received our inaugural invitation from another friend. The inauguration invitations are beautiful, like formal wedding invitations. The envelope contains the gold and black embossed invitation with tissue separating the signed portraits of President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden, a formal inauguration ceremony program with a gold tassle and the tickets to the inaugurattion. We also received two Metro passes that we have been using all day. They have a pricture of Barack Obama on them. We are so grateful to have been given the tickets and the Metro passes!

We went to the "We Are One" concert by the Lincoln Memorial yesterday. The National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument was a sea of people from all over the country and world who gathered to celebrate hope for our country. We heard some people speaking Tagalog, Spanish, French, German, and languages we did not recognize. There were elderly people, families, couples, and tiny babies. The military surrounded the Mall and there were security gates to enter. Even though we left for the Mall early, we couldn't get close to the Lincoln Memorial, but there were giant screens everywhere.

Denzel Washington opened the program speaking of unity. Tom Hanks read the Gettsburg Address. Tiger Woods, and others also spoke. Jon Bon Jovi and Bettye LaVette sang "A Change Is Gonna Come." Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, and James Taylor were among the performers. Pete Seeger was there! (omg Pete Seeger!) He sang "This Land is Your Land" with Bono. Will-i-am and Sheryl Crow sang Bob Matley song, "One Love."

Bono said, “Forty-six years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, on Tuesday, his dream will come true.” And he said it was not just the American dream, it is Ireland's Dream, Africa's dream...

Queen Latifa talked about Mariam Anderson being blocked from singing at Constituion Hall in 1939 because of the color of her skin. She then performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The giant screens showed Mariam Anderson singing "My County Tis of Thee" at the very place the "We Are One" Concert was taking place. The concert was moving and perfectly choreographed.

The crowd cheered when the future first family appeared and walked down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Barack Obama addressed the crowd to thunderous cheers and the muffled sound of hundreds of thousands of mittened and gloved hands clapping. Some quotes from his remarks:

In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now. Our nation is at war. Our economy is in crisis.

There is no obstacle that can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change.

Thank you, America. What gives me the greatest hope of all is not the stone and marble that surrounds us today, but what fills the space in between. It is you, Americans of every race and region and station who came here because you believe in what this country can be and because you want to help us get there.”
At the concert people cheered, danced, and cried tears of joy. The concert was a jubilant celebration, but also a time for thoughtful reflection.

We really could not see well (we are short); we could not always hear well (lots of chatter), but just being there was amazing.

After we left the concert we stopped to take a photo of Nani with the White House in the background and we heard someone shouting my name. It was my friend from the NEA, a professional film maker who was there recording events. It's amazing that in all those people you can find someone you know!

We went to the museum of Natural History and walked for miles through closed streets and ended up at the Metro Center where we finally took the Metro to go back to the apartment. We had a wonderful dinner with Mozhid and his friend.

It was a really wonderful first day of the inaugural celebration. Tomorrow we are participating in the National Day of Service and visiting museums and friends. Some photos in no particular order:


Going to Inauguration!

January 16, 2009

A special friend gave Nani and me tickets to the Inauguration!  

We'll be leaving Sunday very early in the morning to join the millions of people who are going to Washington to witness history being made. One friend told me that not just Americans from every corner of the nation that are flowing into Washington, DC.  There are people from all over the world who have arrived and there is already a sense of excitement in the city. 

Nani has taken charge in planning our schedule for the celebration.  She knows the Metro stop and the gate we have to enter to view the ceremony.  She printed maps and pages of event information.  We plan to meet friends, and go to the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial a concert with Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce,  and other artists.  Nani takes an AP Art History class and she wants to visit art museums.  

The weather is expected to be bitter cold through the weekend and on inauguration day, possibly with snow.  It's 8 degrees there right now.  I am not a very cold-tolerant person, so I was happy to read that churches and other buildings will open their doors for visitors to have a chance to warm up.  

We are going to join service and volunteer activities in Washington on Monday, January 19, 2008 to commemorate Martin Luther King Day. As a service learning teacher I am excited that service is being promoted all over America.  USA lists thousands of volunteer events and suggestions for service.

I usually go to Washington, DC on business to meet with federal officials to support human and labor rights concerns.  The last time I went to Washington for a national celebration was August 27, 1983. I traveled to Washington, DC to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have A Dream Speech with a group of religious leaders from Connecticut.  It was a sweltering day with over 750,000 people gathered to celebrate the contributions of Dr.King and to ask the U.S. Senate and President Reagan to pass the King Holiday.  Senator Ted Kennedy sponsored the bill that was signed by President Reagan in November 1983. Twenty five years later we will be celebrating the inauguration of the first African American President. Thank you my friend for making this possible for me, and especially for Nani who is thrilled beyond belief.

What will you do to celebrate the memory of Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Children in the Crossfire

January 8, 2009

War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children.
-Jimmy Carter

The only way to end conflict is to erase lines of division, end blame, and refuse to justify the death of another person.  How so-called "civilized" people have justified killing each other for centuries has never been comprehensible to me.  At some point it seems that mankind should have matured enough to be able to negotiate and talk instead of fighting and killing. 

How many children have been killed in on-going conflicts around the world in just this last year?  Civilian deaths tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan are seldom discussed, but they are estimated in the hundreds of thousands.  In Gaza over 200 children have died in less than two weeks. Hopefully, a resolution can be negotiated and the needless killing will end.  You can support the protection of civilians in Gaza and Israel by joining Amnesty International's call to action campaign.

Yesterday President-elect Obama had lunch at the White House with President George W. Bush, and all of the former living Presidents, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. It has been reported that one of the discussions at lunch was likely the crisis in the Middle East.  I would have liked to have listened to that conversation.  Would Bill Clinton's views give a hint to policies likely to be supported by Hillary Clinton, the future Secretary of State?  Jimmy Carter's views are somewhat predictable considering that he has  asked the world to join him in demanding human rights for the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. President-elect Obama has been criticized for not being more vocal on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  Yet he did make a brief statement yesterday.  From the Los Angeles Times:
In an apparent acknowledgment of the growing pressure, Obama broke his silence Tuesday after Israeli shells struck Palestinians in a U.N. school in Gaza, killing at least 30 people.

"The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me," Obama said at his transition office in Washington, while continuing to insist that the United States has only one president at a time.

"After Jan. 20, I'm going to have plenty to say about the issue."
Meanwhile, the conflict between Israel and Hamas has escalated as Lebanon targeted Israel with rockets and Israel responded by sending missiles to Lebanon. Voice of America reports:
The Lebanese government condemned the attacks and said it is trying to determine who launched the rockets. There has been no claim of responsibility.
The UN Human Rights Council is calling for an emergency meeting of its 47 members on Friday to discuss Israel's civilian bombings in the Gaza Strip. 

Outrage at the civilian killings is being expressed by Amnesty International,
"An immediate pause in hostilities would at least make it possible for basic assistance to be got to civilians in dire need, permit the evacuation and treatment of the wounded and the burial of the dead," said Malcolm Smart. "It would also allow civilians trapped in Gaza an opportunity to leave the conflict zone safely to seek refuge with the assistance of neighbouring states where necessary, allow emergency repairs to essential infrastructure, and ensure that humanitarian workers can provide protection and assistance in safety."
Amnesty Interantional also reports:
Amnesty International said on Wednesday that both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters are endangering the lives of Palestinian civilians – including by using them as human shields.

“Our sources in Gaza report that Israeli soldiers have entered and taken up positions in a number of Palestinian homes, forcing families to stay in a ground floor room while they use the rest of their house as a military base and sniper position,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “This clearly increases the risk to the Palestinian families concerned and means they are effectively being used as human shields.”

Both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen are continuing to fire at each other from areas close to civilian homes, endangering their inhabitants.

The use of “human shields” in conflict is prohibited under Article 51(7) of the Geneva Conventions: "The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations."
Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into alleged laws-of-war violations in Gaza:
There must be a serious and independent investigation into the shocking loss of civilian life that took place near the UN school and that has characterized this conflict. Only the Security Council can provide the kind of impartial inquiry that can determine what happened.
The International Red Cross is demanding access to wounded in Gaza. From the International Herald Tribune:
The international Red Cross accused Israeli forces Thursday of failing to assist wounded Palestinians and of "unacceptable" delays in letting rescue workers reach a Gaza home where four small children were found alive next to their mothers' bodies.

The Israeli army had refused rescuers permission to reach the site in the Zaytun neighborhood of Gaza City for days, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

Israeli officials said the delay was caused by fighting in the area.
In May 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of The Carter Center, former President Jimmy Carter wrote an article about the horrible human rights abuses in the Gaza Strip. It is worth reading in its entirety:
The world is witnessing a terrible human rights crime in Gaza, where a million and a half human beings are being imprisoned with almost no access to the outside world. An entire population is being brutally punished.

This gross mistreatment of the Palestinians in Gaza was escalated dramatically by Israel, with United States backing, after political candidates representing Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority parliament in 2006. The election was unanimously judged to be honest and fair by all international observers.

Israel and the US refused to accept the right of Palestinians to form a unity government with Hamas and Fatah and now, after internal strife, Hamas alone controls Gaza. Forty-one of the 43 victorious Hamas candidates who lived in the West Bank have been imprisoned by Israel, plus an additional 10 who assumed positions in the short-lived coalition cabinet.

Regardless of one's choice in the partisan struggle between Fatah and Hamas within occupied Palestine, we must remember that economic sanctions and restrictions on the supply of water, food, electricity and fuel are causing extreme hardship among the innocent people in Gaza, about one million of whom are refugees.

Israeli bombs and missiles periodically strike the area, causing high casualties among both militants and innocent women and children. Prior to the highly publicised killing of a woman and her four children last week, this pattern had been illustrated by a report from B'Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights organisation, which stated that 106 Palestinians were killed between February 27 and March 3. Fifty-four of them were civilians, and 25 were under 18 years of age.

On a recent trip through the Middle East, I attempted to gain a better understanding of the crisis. One of my visits was to Sderot, a community of about 20,000 in southern Israel that is frequently struck by rockets fired from nearby Gaza. I condemned these attacks as abominable acts of terrorism, since most of the 13 victims during the past seven years have been non-combatants.

Subsequently, I met with leaders of Hamas - a delegation from Gaza and the top officials in Damascus. I made the same condemnation to them, and urged that they declare a unilateral ceasefire or orchestrate with Israel a mutual agreement to terminate all military action in and around Gaza for an extended period.

They responded that such action by them in the past had not been reciprocated, and they reminded me that Hamas had previously insisted on a ceasefire throughout Palestine, including Gaza and the West Bank, which Israel had refused. Hamas then made a public proposal of a mutual ceasefire restricted to Gaza, which the Israelis also rejected.

There are fervent arguments heard on both sides concerning blame for a lack of peace in the Holy Land. Israel has occupied and colonised the Palestinian West Bank, which is approximately a quarter the size of the nation of Israel as recognised by the international community. Some Israeli religious factions claim a right to the land on both sides of the Jordan river, others that their 205 settlements of some 500,000 people are necessary for "security".

All Arab nations have agreed to recognise Israel fully if it will comply with key United Nations resolutions. Hamas has agreed to accept any negotiated peace settlement between the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, provided it is approved in a referendum of the Palestinian people.

This holds promise of progress, but despite the brief fanfare and positive statements at the peace conference last November in Annapolis, the process has gone backwards. Nine thousand new Israeli housing units have been announced in Palestine; the number of roadblocks within the West Bank has increased; and the stranglehold on Gaza has been tightened.

It is one thing for other leaders to defer to the US in the crucial peace negotiations, but the world must not stand idle while innocent people are treated cruelly. It is time for strong voices in Europe, the US, Israel and elsewhere to speak out and condemn the human rights tragedy that has befallen the Palestinian people.
And from Her Majesty Queen Rania speaking on behalf of the children of Gaza:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” ... Article one, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” … Article three, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Over the past 41 years, the people of Gaza have been living under occupation. Over the past 18 months, they have been living under siege. And for the past 10 days, the people of Gaza have been subject to a cruel and continuous military attack.

Either the declaration is not so universal, or the people of Gaza are not human beings, worthy of the same “universal” rights. This is the message the world is sending out today.

Today, I am here with representative members of the UN family, to share with you the extent of the humanitarian crisis that is Gaza.

But not only is there a humanitarian crisis in Gaza... there is a crisis in our global humanity. Nelson Mandela once said that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Today, I tell you, our humanity is incomplete without theirs. It is incomplete. It is not universal.

This is the message I am sending world leaders: Our humanity is incomplete when children, irrespective of nationality, are victims of military operations.

More than seventy dead children. Close to six hundred injured. What does the world tell to their mothers? To the Palestinian mother who lost five daughters in one day? To the mothers watching their children cry in pain, huddle in fear, and deal with more trauma than any of us will experience in an entire lifetime?
(Read her entire statement)

More recommended reading:
What's Behind the Violence in the Gaza Strip? San Francisco Times
Red Cross Reports Grisly Find in Gaza, Washington Post

New Bits from the CNMI

January 7, 2009

Fitial a No Show at Kilili's Inauguration

The news that Governor Fitial and wife, Josie didn't show up at Kilili's inauguration was published in both the Marinas Variety and the Saipan Tribune. Why didn't the governor attend after all the publicity on how he, wife Josie, and "special counsel" Willens would be there?  

Death of an Industry
The last three remaining garment factories on Saipan, Uno Moda, US CNMI Development and MGM, will close down by February 2009 according to the Saipan Tribune The closure of the factories will swell the already bloated sector of unemployed foreign and resident workers making competition for the few remaining job openings even harder.

Local Reaction to Monument Declaration

Letters to the editor by Ken Kramer and Jane Mack, and praise from Friends of the Monument, and Deputy Secretary of Labor Cinta Kaipat

Formerly Con, Now Pro
Governor Fitial, House Speaker Arnold Palacios, Senate President Pete P. Reyes, and Department of Public Lands Secretary John Del Rosario

Guam Rep. Bordallo

Blue Legacy

January 5, 2009

Congratulations to Pew Charitable Trust, Angelo Villagomez, Ike Cabrera, Ken Kramer, Ruth Tighe, Jane Mack, and all of the CNMI Marine Monument supporters. The Washington Post reports that today President George W. Bush declared three areas in the Pacific Ocean as protected marine national monuments. The article states:
Two of the areas encompass a region known as the Line Islands, a relatively isolated and uninhabited string of islands in the central Pacific. The third area, in the western Pacific, includes the waters around a few islands in the northern Marianas chain and the Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean canyon in the world.
Both regions boast enormous biodiversity: Kingman Reef and other islands in the central Pacific area teem with sharks and other top predators as well as vibrant, healthy corals; the Mariana Trench and its nearby islands are home to several species of rare beaked whales and the Micronesian megapode -- an endangered bird that uses the heat from volcanic vents to incubate its eggs -- and also boast mud volcanoes, pools of boiling sulfur and the greatest microbial diversity on Earth.
The National Marine Monument should place the CNMI on the map in a positive way. The reefs and waters that embrace the Northern Mariana Islands feature breathtaking beauty and an ecosystem that is the treasure of the CNMI. It will now be preserved for future generations.
The monument will help preserve not only the environment and natural resources, but also the cultural heritage of the CNMI.

The declaration of the establishment of the Marine Monument will not only bring recognition to the islands, but should provide a much-needed economic boost as well. It will attract tourists and environmentalists to the islands and should result in the creation of jobs.

The marine ecosystem is in danger world-wide from effects of global warming, pollution, over fishing and destruction of marine habitat. This declaration will result in a no-take marine preserve around the waters of Asunsion, Maug and Uracas making a huge section of Maianas waters a national park of the sea. The CNMI should celebrate the blue legacy and the international attention it will bring.

Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environmental Group was quoted by the Washington Post as saying:
"With the designation of these new marine monuments in the Marianas Islands, American Samoa and the western pacific, George Bush has ushered in a new era of ocean conservation in the United States and the world at large. It has taken 137 years, since the creation of America's first national park in Yellowstone in 1872, to recognize that unique areas of the world's oceans deserve the same kind of protection as we have afforded similar places on land. And none too soon."
For updates and more information go to the Pew Global Ocean Legacy Web site.


more articles:

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 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.   

Reflections of the New Year

Mom on her wedding day, November 16, 1946.

January 3, 2009

January 1, 2009 marked the beginning of a new year.  To many 2009 represents a year of hope and change. We look forward with hope to a year where president-elect Obama and the new U.S. Congress can guide our country back on the right course. We look forward with hope to PL 110-229 to help end years of injustice and human rights abuses in the CNMI.  The new year is also a time to look backwards and reflect upon the events of the past year.

Thursday January 1, 2009 also marked the ending of the life of a very beautiful person, my mother, Alyce Evelyn Lisk. She died surrounded by her family in a hospice in Port Orange, Florida after a long illness.  I am grateful that I was able to spend the last weeks of her life with her and my father.  I was blessed to be with her for her last night, New Year's Eve, sitting at her bedside holding her tiny hand until the morning.

My mother and I were not alike in many of our beliefs or political philosophies.  In fact, as liberal as I am, my mom was conservative.  Yet, I learned many valuable lessons from her including generosity, charity, and service. When I was growing up the holidays at our house were not just family celebrations.  Mom set seats at the table for everyone she knew in our small Connecticut town who was alone or had no family.  Sometimes there were even two or three tables at holiday dinners.  As we grew older my sisters, my brother and I realized that Aunt Truth, Aunt Mildred,  Aunt Jo, Uncle Fred and the others were not really our relatives. My mom was empathetic, a quality not everyone has or even understands.  

My mother tolerated my free-spiritedness and even allowed me to do things my friends were not allowed to do.  When I was 16 she let me tutor younger students at the Salvation Army in the North end of Hartford which was considered a dangerous part of the city at that time.  It was an experience that led to my love of teaching.  When I was a senior in high school my parents took me to Bennington College in Vermont for an interview and to see the campus. I know they would have liked me to have enrolled there, but I wanted to go to Hawaii to college, and my mom told my dad to let me go.   My love for the Pacific islands and islanders was born in Hawaii.  My mom also encouraged me to paint, play the piano, and write poetry, all things she did not do. She influenced many of the paths I choose to take in my life even though they were not paths she would walk.

My mother was funny.  Sometimes she reminded me of Lucy in the I Love Lucy sitcom of the 1950's and 1960's.  One time there was a parade in town and she was frustrated because the route was the way home.  Instead of waiting for the parade to pass or finding another way, she joined the parade, and told my sister and me who were sitting in the back seat to wave like we were supposed to be there.  (Funny now, not so funny then.)  Another time my mother organized a surprise birthday party for the pastor of our church.  It was huge, and it was also the wrong date.  Everyone was really surprised, especially mom.

One of my earliest memories was when I was four years old.  I had the mumps and developed encephalitis.  I remember my mother crying as she held me on her lap in the Indian blanket as my dad drove me to the doctor's office in the middle of the night. I was sick for months and remember my mom lovingly taking care of me as winter passed to spring and then to summer.

My mother and father shared 62 years together and up until her last breath their deep love for each other was beautiful to behold.  Nani said that grandma and grandpa remind her of the movie, The Notebook.  

I think it's appropriate that my mother died on January 1, New Year's Day.  My father reminded us today that "January" is named after the Roman god, Janus, the god of gates, doors, beginnings and endings.  He has two heads so he can look backwards and forwards, to the future and the past.  Death marks not just the end, but also new beginnings.  I am sure that now New Year's Day will be more meaningful to our family as we celebrate my mother's life and remember her love and many contributions to making each of our lives more meaningful.

Mom and Dad, Boboy and me November 16, 1996, on their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary.