April 30, 2010
The reaction from the Fitial Administration and legislators concerning the Department of Interior's Recommendation to Congress was predicatable. Assistant Secretary Babauta presented the report to Lt. Governor Eloy Inos and other officials in the governor's conference room yesterday. The governor did not attend because of "a family matter."
The lt. governor said that comments from the executive office would be expressed after reviewing the report.
Cinta Kaipat, the Governor's neice andthe Deputy Secretary of Labor was quoted by the Marianas Variety:
Deputy Labor Secretary Cinta Kaipat, for her part, expressed concern that there were not enough consultations made to the local government and its people before the recommendations were made.To call the report "premature" is a really big stretch since the law passed two years ago and the Fitial Administration has been complaining about the report since then. The local government denied the U.S. access to statistics and data, in what I believe was an attempt to stall the report. That fact was even stated in the report. Additionally, Governor Fitial asked for the report deadline to be extended when he testified at the House hearing in May 2009. It is clear that the local government suspected what the recommendations would be, and wanted to delay the release of the report.
“I don’t think you have spent any time at all listening to the indigenous people,” she said and added that Interior’s report is premature at best.
“Our people here are in need of jobs,” she added and noted that improving the status of long-term guest workers would mean the local workforce would be competing with them for job opportunities.
Kaipat's complaint that the "indigenous people were not given enough time to consult and make recommendations is also utter nonsense. Two years is pleny of time. As a human rights advocate, I began asking for status for the guest workers immediately after the bill passed. I traveled to Washington, DC several times to talk to officials face-to-face, sent letters and emails, and organized petition and letter drives. I attended the hearing and submitted testimony. So how were people not afforded opportunities to express their views? All they had to do was to take initiative, make certain that their opinions were expressed, and actively participate.
As for not listening to "indigenous people" that is also not true. A delgation of members of the U.S. Congress and staffers led by Rep. Nick Rahall, II travelled to the CNMI last year to meet with and get input from a variety of groups, including many indigenous people. Former Rep. Tina Sablan submitted written testimony for the May 2009 hearing urging the Congress to grant status to the foreign workers. Many other indigenous people signed our petitions and penned letters.
In regard to Kaipat's complaint that the workers could take jobs from the locals, she should reread the declaration that she submitted to Judge Paul Freidman as part of the wasteful anti-federalization lawsuit. She claimed that every worker would be needed to sustain the CNMI economy, and complained that the bad federalization would remove them. The lawsuit fought against their removal and for local control of the broken system. The reality is that the CNMI only wants the foreign workers if they remain disenfranchised and are under the local control. This point is further illustrated by the unconstitutional law PL 17-1, which attempts to violate federeal law by imposing authority over the foreign workforce.
The Saipan Tribune reported:
Deputy Labor Secretary Cinta Kaipat and House Vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro expressed disappointment with the report and its recommendation, citing a lack of study on the recommendation's impact on the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian population and lack of consultation with the local government and the indigenous residents.
But Babauta said there had been numerous meetings, consultations and hearings both in Washington, D.C. and the CNMI.
Babauta repeatedly said that the recommendation contained in the 20-page “Report on the Alien Worker Population in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands” by the Interior secretary “is consistent with U.S. immigration and nationality laws.”
Ogumoro and Kaipat said indigenous residents will have more difficulty competing with foreign workers for private sector jobs should Congress agree to Interior's recommendations.
Unlike the public sector where nepotism and polical favors determine which employees are hired, employers in the private sector will hire the most qualified and experienced candidates reagrdless of whether they are local or foreign-born.
While Assisatnt Secretary Babauta was presenting the report to officials on Capital Hill, Federal Ombudsman Pamela Brown was presenting it to the workers and community leaders at the federal ombudsman office. Among thos attending were former Rep. Tina Sablan, Sister Stella, several Saipan attorneys, and leaders of guest worker groups.
Guest workers had positive reactions to the news. One said it was "the answer to years of prayer," while another said that he "always knew that the U.S. would do the right thing."
Workers who I talked to by phone or who emailed me were unanimous in stating that they hoped for U.S. citiznehsip or a direct path without any restrictions such as having to remain in the CNMI more years, being offered an FAS-type status, or any status that did not provide for full political and social rights.
See KSPN News for video coverage of the meeting.