Federal Ombudsman to Sponsor Forum

March 2, 2010

All of my meetings in the House and Senate last week were extremely positive. The petitions were delivered and I was able to ask questions and share concerns.

One of the people I met in Washington, DC was Federal Ombudsman Pamela Brown. Pam will answer questions on federalization law at a forum to be held Thursday at the Amphitheater at the American Memorial Park at 6:00 pm. I encourage every guest worker to attend!

While waiting for the DHS final rule and the Department of Interior's recommendation to Congress, workers are becoming frustrated with more fees being collected by the CNMI Department of Labor. Hopefully, the ombudsman will have an opinion concerning the DOL's National Identification Card and fees, a clarification on umbrella permits, and some insight on the time lines for rules.

Kara-Mailman's Take
Adding to the confusion was a Saipan Tribune column by attorneys Maya Kara and Bruce Mailman, The Big Decision in May. Annoyed and offended guest workers called me questioning the attorneys' take on dissecting the language in PL 110-229 702(a)(h). The law states:
"Report on Nonresident Guestworker Population- 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 enactment of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008. The report shall include--
(1) the number of aliens residing in the Commonwealth;
(2) a description of the legal status (under Federal law) of such aliens;
(3) the number of years each alien has been residing in the Commonwealth;
(4) the current and future requirements of the Commonwealth economy for an alien workforce; and
(5) such recommendations to the Congress, as the Secretary may deem appropriate, related to whether or not the Congress should consider permitting lawfully admitted guest workers lawfully residing in the Commonwealth on such enactment date to apply for long-term status under the immigration and nationality laws of the United States." The registration form addresses these specific questions and will make it possible for the DOI to submit an accurate report and recommendations.
In the condescending column, Kara and Mailman suggest that the foreign contract workers believe "rumors" and lack the intelligence to understand the language of PL 110-229.

Kara and Mailman questioned the accuracy of the successful registration of CNMI aliens conducted by the Federal Ombudsman's Office "since participation was voluntary and conducted over a very brief period, the accuracy of the numbers is uncertain."

No survey, no census, and no data collection is ever 100% accurate. The registration by the ombudsman was conducted specifically to address the requirements of PL 110-229 and is accurate to serve its purpose. In fact, when the registration was being conducted the Ombudsman's Office stated:
Why is there a registration? The registration being conducted by this federal office is for the purpose of gathering accurate and specific information for the report that the U.S. Department of Interior. From the Consolidated Natural Resources Act (P.L. 110-299)
Contrary to what Kara-Mailman said in their column, the legal status of the aliens was also recorded in the alien registration. In fact, over 21,000 foreign nationals were registered. The registration (click on the image below to enlarge) also asked how many years in the aliens have been in the CNMI. In fact, the form addressed all of the requirements of PL 110-229 because that was the intended purpose.

The attorneys state:
Based on our assessment, a positive recommendation to extend special immigration benefits to CNMI guest workers is very unlikely to come this May. The “Big Decision in May” will likely call for further study and delay on the issue. In the unlikely event that a positive recommendation is made, the recommendation will still need to weather the political storm raging in the United States regarding immigration reform and the future of approximately 12 million illegal aliens.
Where did that come from?! The "big decision" will call for further study and delay on the issue? Wrong. The recommendation will not be a call for further study and/or delay. It is not a "decision", but is a recommendation to the U.S. Congress. I am certain that the recommendation will come before May 10, 2010 and it will be a logical and well-recieved recommendation.

For years I have been working to educate key members of the U.S. Congress and key federal officials as to the distinction between 16,000 legal foreign contract workers in the CNMI and the millions of illegal aliens in the U.S. mainland. Through hundreds of letters so have the foreign contract workers, their children, and supporters. What is so difficult about understanding the difference? Are Kara and Mailman implying that members of the U.S. Congress cannot understand issues or be educated? They state:
We all know that the great majority of our foreign workers entered the CNMI legally, and that they did not even try to enter the U.S.; the U.S. borders simply rolled over them, swallowed them up. Unfortunately, that critical but fine distinction will escape most of the U.S. politicians on whom we will need to rely enact an amendment to the CRNA; they will not understand that the vast majority of aliens in the CNMI are here lawfully. Any request for enhanced status for CNMI guest workers will need to confront and overcome the political hostility against illegal aliens existing in the U.S. Like it or not, the future of guest workers in the CNMI is tied to the future of illegal aliens in the U.S.
The petition that gathered over 6,700 signatures clearly explains the distinction. It is a simple yet very important difference that has not escaped complete understanding of the key people who have been following this issue, have been educated on this issue, or have been championing this issue. In fact, some elected officials are educating other members on the issue right now!

Perhaps the most irritating of the truly off-base remarks that Kara-Mailman made was:
Now remember, a report to the U.S. Congress is a fairly big deal. The person presenting this report will be the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a member of the President's Cabinet and a political appointee. Cabinet secretaries do not like to make mistakes; it is politically embarrassing to the President, and causing embarrassment to the President can rapidly undermine a promising political career. So Secretary Salazar will be very careful not to have anything in this report that is inaccurate. He is also very unlikely to make any recommendations that are not supported by statistical data. Due to the lack of statistical data, it is very unlikely that Secretary Salazar will be able to report any accurate demographic information required by the report or to make any precise recommendations based upon it. He will be able to report the lack of data, the need for data, and make a recommendation to revisit the issue at some future time when data might be available. It is very unlikely at this time that he will make any recommendation to Congress regarding the future immigration status of CNMI guest workers.
Where did that come from? Do they not know that it was the Department of Interior that authorized the alien registration that was conducted by the Ombudsman Office?

If our President will be embarrassed by anything, it will be the fact that it has taken decades to pass legislation that offers the promise of a just and democratic guest worker program that will provide for a pathway to citizenship. The President may be embarrassed by the fact that foreign contract workers have lived and worked on U.S. soil for 5, 10, 20 or more years as a disenfranchised underclass lacking any social or political rights. The President would be embarrassed to know that human trafficking and the cheating of foreign contract workers is flourishing in the CNMI. The President may be embarrassed to learn that the U.S. citizen children of foreign contract workers live in fear of being exiled to foreign countries to face an uncertain future. But no, the President will not be embarrassed by the DOI's recommendation.

I can recall a few years ago I challenged those who claimed that the federalization bill would never pass. I spoke to the workers and said, "It is not a question of if federal legislation will pass, but rather a question of when it will pass."

I view the question of status for the long-term guest workers in the same way. It is not a question of if the long-term guest workers will get status, but a question of when they will get status.

For the guest workers who feel discouraged by the Kara-Mailman column, just read the last paragraph. It sums up the real purpose of this and their other columns, which appears to be for the attorneys to solicit business from nonresidents for visas, green cards and immigration-related matters. They write, "All aliens present in the CNMI will need to obtain some form of U.S. immigration status by Nov. 27, 2011-or face removal by U.S. authorities. " Of course, this is true, but unless there are special circumstances, anyone should be able to complete a form for a visa or green card application without paying fees to an attorney. The instructions are simple and clear and the USCIS Office will assist with any questions.

Guest workers should attend the forum at the American Memorial Park Amphitheater Thursday night at 6:00 pm to hear what Pam has to say. They will be given the opportunity to ask pertinent questions to someone who is not guessing, but someone who knows the situation.

Photo by Nani Doromal ©2010


Saipan Writer said...

Interesting analysis, Wendy.

Maya is a former government attorney and strongly supports the CNMI government, even in its continued collection of fees and issuance of "permanent" umbrella permits (and other permits). She was a friend of Jack Abramoff's and may feel she does know what scares government officials. Her opinion is, of course, colored by her experience and natural inclinations, as are our own individual opinions.

You'll note that her column is in the Saipan Tribune, not the Variety. She has an affinity for the CNMI-government /Willie Tan line.

She may be right, but I hope not.

I think that none of us know the full situation, or could know the full situation. It's too big and complex.

We can share our experience, our insight, our opinions. But no one should walk away thinking they've got the definitive answer (even from Pam Brown's talk) until we see the recommendation. Then we'll all know.

Until then, we should do everything we can to make sure that the recommendation provides justice tempered with mercy.

Saipan Writer said...

I've re-read Maya's article. I really think Maya is trying to say that the rumor (that "everything will be okay once May rolls around, we'll all get green cards") is not worthy of belief.

Although her language is a bit supercilious and her logic and assumptions full of holes (as you point out), there is probably truth to this opinion.

There is nothing wrong with aliens trying to get whatever other legal status they can obtain now. And although you discount the benefit of legal advice, I think that is a disservice to those here. We continue to see people who have no idea about their rights or status.

For example, we had a person in recently who is a US citizen under the Covenant and who didn't even know that. This person can apply for a US passport, and that is an easy form to complete, but if you don't know the law and your status as a citizen(!), you won't even know to use that form.

And one last point: if the recommendation to the US Congress that is made in May (or earlier) is for permanent status for ALL aliens in the CNMI (and it is unlikely to be so comprehensive, in my opinion), it would still take further legal/legislative action to make that status a reality. So it really is highly unlikely that people will have green cards in May.

I think people should be seeking legal advice about their situations, their status, and what to do about the umbrella permit. There may be some protection to them if they rely on legal advice in their decisions about what to do about umbrella permits and revocations and more fees to the CNMI. And in the meantime, they could be looking for any status they can get if there is no green card in the offing, to protect them when 11/2011 rolls around. Better safe than sorry.

If the report to the US Congress turns out positive and recommends that it confer benefits (like permanent residency), so much the better.

Wendy said...

Hello Jane:

The report/recommendations will be positive.

You are correct. After the recommendation is announced it will take legislation from Congress to grant status. It is a recommendation; Congress can act any way it chooses to act. The way the Congress is behaving (or misbehaving) right now who knows if any legislation will pass any time soon.

If any worker needs legal advice, they can go to the ombudsman and get it for free. That is one main purpose of the ombudsman's office and why it is so important during the transition period.

Every worker should attend the meeting on Thursday evening.

The intent of the legislation was always to have the long-term workers be given status to ensure a stable workforce. When the grandfathering clause was removed, this particular section was added to be able to fulfill that intent.

Kara-Mailman are not right. The column was especially exasperating because contains the Siemer-manipulation tone in it.

The report will be positive.

Melberlin said...

It is still hard to believed that opponents (the present admin and voters who voted them) of having foreign workers status be improved and same people who are trying hard to improve the local economy are still working behind to deprive us our way of helping the economy pick up.
Because of this, foreign workers are pausing or holding back ANYthing in uncertainty or unwillingness to spend their money; while half of the population are spending less due to gov't austerity and unpaid holidays. When can we rebound?
When can they learn how to get everybody better? Unwillingness to recognize and respect the humanity of any race will get everything worse.

Saipan Writer said...

Knock on wood, Wendy, knock on wood.

Hope you are right.

mberueco said...

The President will be embarrassed that these so called "intelligent" citizens of his country are "twisting" the language of the law to scare guest workers and in their hope of retaining CNMI DOL....
But one is true, we do not know when the improved of status for guest workers will happen....and this is NOT a comprehensive one...wish we could see at least the "qualifications" on the recommendations...

the teacher said...

I think the regulations will be identical, with a few possible changes, to the original regulations and that will be it until 2014. That is the unique CNMI tranistional guest worker program. To think that an act of Congress will happen fast, or that anyone will get green card before the CW program seperates workers from investors, is in my opinion, unrealistic.

malou berueco said...

the forum tonight was well attended!...ms. pam brown cleared all the issues and she was excellent in the manner of explaining them...no promises was made...but at least no more confusions (i hope for all)!...
thank you very much ms. pam for this forum...