Status for CNMI Foreign Workers

December 28, 2010

Every few months an elected official steps forward to discuss possibilities for granting status to the guest workers and other aliens in the CNMI.  It's a passionate issue and always reveals the division between the supporters and the extremely angry opponents.

Yesterday the Marinas Variety published a story repeating what Congressman Kilili Sablan has been saying for a couple of years - that he supports status for NMI permanent residents and IRs.  (Usually, he includes alien parents of U.S. citizen children in his list, but this time they were omitted.)

The comments under this story show some logic, some thoughtfulness, some stupidity, some anger, a lot of racism, and many unfounded accusations.  Remarks such as "foreigners have children to get a green card", "foreigners have other spouses in their homelands", and "foreigners marry to get a green card" are unfounded generalizations that have no place in an honest discussion on this issue. A few bad apples don't represent the quality of the orchard.

Comments that accuse those who want to be U.S. citizens of "deserting their country" are interesting because the commenter attempts to project his patriotic or nationalistic beliefs on others.  As I have said many times, where a person is born is an accident of birth; where a person chooses to live is an conscious decision.  We have no control over the country of our birth and cannot decide our nationality or citizenship until we have an opportunity later in our lives. Citizenship can never erase nationality and it cannot remove love or loyalty to a nation of birth or homeland.

Some arguments against granting status make no sense; some are outright racist.  I find it especially repugnant that any person who was granted U.S. citizenship by the mere virtue of being an indigenous person in the CNMI, would suggest that the foreign contract workers "did not earn citizenship" and should "follow the rules." The rules are set by the U.S. Congress, as every person in the CNMI who was granted U.S. citizenship on November 4, 1986 and every one of their children and grandchildren should know and remember.

As for those who claim they do not want to be a "minority in their own land" -  I can only ask, "Have you been asleep for a few decades?" Wake up! It's far too late. When the elected leaders brought in tens of thousands of foreign workers to line their own pockets while building a false economy based on quicksand, they made the indigenous people a "minority in their own land."  No one seemed to care when the money was flowing and the economy was good.  In fact, voters continually re-elected the the very leaders, including Governor Fitial and Speaker Tenorio, who hired Jack Abramoff and other lobbyists to declare that the CNMI was "a petri dish of capitalism" and fought to keep the dysfunctional and abusive system so that foreigners could continue to pour into the CNMI. That rhetoric needs to be buried.

A comment made by "thehaolesays" is an excellent response to those who believe that the "locals" should have a say in deciding status for the foreign workers:
thehaolesays December 29, 2010 05:53AM
Refresh my memory, local friends, but I'm a tax-paying mainlander, and I was just wondering when those of us paying taxes to give money to CNMI were consulted about giving you status? Because I recall that being an arrangement made directly between you and Uncle Sam.

If mainlanders were asked if we'd like to give US citizenship to some islands out in the ocean that won't pay taxes but will take our tax dollars, we would have said no.

But even though we didn't get to vote on that as tax-payers, you non-tax payers do deserve the vote, is that how you think this works?
The statement illustrates why all of the CNMI Senate hearings that were held on three islands and attended by less than 1% of the CNMI to determine public opinion on what status CNMI residents proposed for foreign contract workers were not just unnecessary, but offensive.

Arguments that only specific and narrow categories of  foreign workers should be given status also make little sense. I find it offensive and discriminatory to suggest that foreign workers with U.S. citizen children should be given preference to a pathway to citizenship over childless foreign workers who have lived and worked in the CNMI for as long, or even longer, than some of the foreign workers with children. Procreation should not be a requirement to be considered in granting status or a pathway to U.S. citizenship.  Length of time that a foreign workers has worked and resided legally in the CNMI, and a clean criminal record should be determinants.  Proposing status for only narrow groups of foreign workers such as only those with U.S. citizen children, will lead to debate about constitutionality and discrimination and could kill any proposed legislation for status.

Congressman Sablan is correct that some type of improved status will be given before November 2011.   Absolutely CNMI permanent residents will gain improved status.  They should have been given it decades ago!  Absolutely IRs will get improved status. They can apply for it now!  There is already a pathway for immediate relatives to get green cards. As far as other categories of aliens, they too will be granted a pathway to citizenship, as the Status Report from the Department of Interior recommends.

As much as Deputy Secretary Cinta Kaipat wants to believe that there are 6,500 plus "locals" ready to step into the jobs that the foreign workers now hold, she is wrong. Some of those jobs require college degrees and other require extensive training.  Others require minimal training, but they carry with the job title, the promise of long hours and low wages.  Just like we will never see United States citizens lining up to work in the fields to perform the backbreaking task of harvesting crops, we will never see hundreds of "locals" in the CNMI lining up to be domestic helpers, exotic dancers and masseuses.

There are over 15,000 foreign workers filling jobs in the CNMI and most of those workers have lived and worked in the CNMI for 5 or more years. The CNMI is their home. They should be given a direct pathway to citizenship. It's a win-win situation.  They would be allowed to remain in the country that they has become their home, and there will be no worries about the "foreign workforce" leaving and the "CNMI economy being destroyed."

The U.S. Congress will determine status.  They will consider the report from the Department of Interior with recommendations on status for the foreign workers that they mandated in the CNRA.  From that report:
Response: Consistent with the goals of comprehensive immigration reform, we recommend that the Congress consider permitting alien workers who have lawfully resided in the CNMI for a minimum period of five years to apply for long-term status under the immigration and nationality laws of the United States. Statuses under the INA that could be considered include (but are not necessarily limited to): 
(1) alien workers could be conferred United States citizenship by Act of Congress;
(2) alien workers could be conferred a permanent resident status leading to U.S. citizenship (per the normal provisions of the INA relating to naturalization), with the five-year minimum residence spent anywhere in the United States or its territories; or
(3) alien workers could be conferred a permanent resident status leading to U.S. citizenship, with the five-year minimum residence spent in the CNMI. 
Additionally, under U.S. immigration law special status is provided to aliens who are citizens of the freely associated states. Following this model,
(1) alien workers could be granted a nonimmigrant status like that negotiated for citizens of the freely associated states, whereby such persons may live and work in the United States and its territories; or
(2) alien workers could be granted a nonimmigrant status like that negotiated for citizens of the freely associated states, whereby such persons may live and work in the CNMI only. 
Precedent for the Congress granting long-term status to nonimmigrant workers was set by Public Law 97-271 (1982) when the Congress, citing its special responsibility and authority with respect to territories and the establishment of immigration policy granted the opportunity to apply for U.S. permanent residence to more than 20,000 legal, long-time (more than seven years continuous residence), alien workers in the U.S. Virgin Islands.




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12 comments:

Anonymous said...

The CNMI-Only CW Visa regulations that are scheduled to be released in March will allow guest workers to remain beyond Nov. 2011, provided no U.S. workers are available. In the U.S., when a business cannot attract skilled workers, they increase salaries, not recruit from abroad for minimum wage. Although businesses and the CNMI government itself want the guest workers to remain without any likelhood of citizenship and voting rights, the federal government will not allow the current system to continue indefinitely. Fair wages relative to education and experience will have to be provided and U.S. citizens from the mainland, non-connected locals and guest worker descendants will finally have a chance.

Anonymous said...

Immigration reform is on the back burner, hell it's not even on the stove anymore.

There has been no decision and no law regarding any improved status for any guest worker, IR, illegal, long term, short term, tourist, etc. What 'status' are you referring to? Of course they can apply for improved status but that does not mean much.

Why does Sablan dance around this issue? Yes, no - maybe so.

Immigration reform is a hot potato right now and the current Congress supports helping Americans first.

Anonymous said...

thehaolesays said . . .

Refresh my memory, local friends, but I'm a tax-paying mainlander, and I was just wondering when those of us paying taxes to give money to CNMI were consulted about giving you status? Because I recall that being an arrangement made directly between you and Uncle Sam.

If mainlanders were asked if we'd like to give US citizenship to some islands out in the ocean that won't pay taxes but will take our tax dollars, we would have said no.

But even though we didn't get to vote on that as tax-payers, you non-tax payers do deserve the vote, is that how you think this works?


Yes, I'll be happy to refresh your memory. It was the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America (“Covenant”), Pub. L. 94-241, §§ 301 & 601, Act of Mar. 24, 1976, reprinted at 48 U.S.C. § 1801 note, enacted by your elected representatives and senators, and signed into law by your President Ford, all duly acting on your behalf in the best interests of the taxpayers. That's how a constitutional republic works.

But the federalization of minimum wages and immigration, which has devastated and wreaked havoc on our CNMI economy was imposed in an act of naked political vindictiveness and power, without even the most simple impact study of the sort that would be performed for any minor construction project on the mainland, and without an elected CNMI delegate sitting at the table!

At least now we do have a vote at the committee that will decide this issue, in the person of Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan!

-------------------------------------------------------

It is somewhat disheartening, Wendy, that you quote such an opinion in your blog post. It gives credence to the comments of those who assert you are disrespectful of and disinterested in the plight of the indigenous people of the CNMI.

Anonymous said...

Noni 8:18

Impressive that you can repeat what Wendy already said and add some of your knowledge as an attorney to enhance her words. Anyone who knows her knows that she defends the rights of every person regardless of nationality or race. It was the CNMI's greedy elected leaders who have "wreaked havoc on the CNMI economy." It was also the corrupt CNMI leaders who abused their power so the feds had to step in. It is after all, US soil. What's disheartening is your attempt to claim that by supporting the disenfranchised workers, Wendy is somehow attacking the indigenous. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Anonymous said...

Wendy may not be attacking NMDs, but the “thehaolesays” certainly questions U.S. citizenship for Chamorros and Refaluwasch above.

Publishing those comments seems to endorse them, especially with this introduction:

an excellent response to those who believe that the "locals" should have a say in deciding status for the foreign workers.

The local people, though Kilili, should have a say in what happens to their community.

Anonymous said...

10:25 She said correctly that CONGRESS DECIDES. KILILI IS A MEMBER OF CONGRESS! He has a say. She does not dispute that. Her point is residents (that call themselves locals) do not decide what people are granted United States citizenship or improved status. Get it?

Anonymous said...

To be eligible for a federal pension at age 62, a Member of Congress must serve at least five years.

I am guessing Kilili will do whatever most helps him become Governor in 2014.

“Green Cards for all!”

It's not your money! said...

Anon 8:18

Your feigned outrage that the CNMI had no representation in the Congress when P.L. 110-229 was passed is misplaced, since it was that law that finally gave the CNMI our delegate. Besides, the CNMI's representatives sat at the table when the Covenant-with its immigration takeover provision-was negotiated, after which it was approved by nearly 80% of the CNMI's voters.

Your claim that federalization of immigration and the minimum wage law were responsible for economic devastation to the CNMI is also insupportable. The downturn was in full swing years before the passage of either law, and attributable to Article XII, JAL's pullout, changes to WTO rules (which we had notice of years in advance), the legislature's outsourcing of the CNMI's entire private job sector, the legislature and the executive's exportation of capital that would have created businesses and jobs had it not been remitted overseas, our failure to crack down on crimes against tourists, our failure to do anything to stem the tide of labor abuses and human trafficking, the highest electric rates under U.S. flag (and the most unreliable delivery of power), undrinkable tap water, red flag beach closures, all are more likely to have contributed to the economic downturn than the federalization law that only went into effect 13 months ago. As for minimum wage, most legitimate businesses that generated any revenue for the CNMI were already paying more than minimum, and those who were paying less either shouldn't have been in business in the first place (sham employment, Korean dime stores, massage parlors), or are still here, still not paying the minimum wage (ask your housekeeper how many of her sisters are getting minimum wage, or have even been paid in the past 12 months).

Not content with having victimized thousands of workers over the past 15 years, and largely gotten away with your ill-gotten gains, you still advance the laughable idea that you have been someone else's victim. The Congress didn't buy it. The people of the CNMI don't buy it, either.

Anonymous said...

You covered all bases with this one, and hit the nail on the head.

The racism here seems to be primary in the formation of responses to this issue. The same people who say we need outside employees, say aliens go home. They also refuse to recognize that they created a situation where they were outnumbered.

Anonymous said...

Nice writeups Wendy, one of the best to wake some up but not those who are still in nightmare above that responded while asleep.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to see someone has the courage to question the idea that long-term workers with children should be given a pathway to citizenship and childless workers should be passed over. It is discriminatory. One thing you didn't mention was that the U.S. citizen children will be able to petition their parents when they are of age. The childless long term workers only have one way to be repaid for their years of dedicated work, through the U.S. Congress. Do the right thing Kilili! Every legal long-term worker who has worked 5 or more years in the NMI should get permanent residency. Child or childless.

Anonymous said...

The Marianas Variety article was old news. David Gilick said last year that they were working on IR's and CNMI Permanent Residents.

The reason that children can petition their non-resident parents is that they are no longer eligible for wic and medicaid, and there is a family member responsible for making sure the parents don't receive public assistance.

The end of the transition period and 2014 w/minimum wage at 7.25/hr. are related to the fact that the CNMI should have a salary where people are off the welfare rolls, and working in the private sector is a better option than public assistance.

There are well over 6,500 jobs for locals are ready and willing to take. That number doesn't even include CUC, DPH, and PSS hires. The U.S. Nat'l average is 1 accountant per 1K population. The CNMI has 10x that amount with 400+ accountants. I was at a Divita Dialysis center in the U.S. where they had 1 R.N. and 20+ CNA's. The Saipan clinic has 30+ R.N.'s. There is also an extremely large number of private schools for an island this small. Subway, McDonalds,and Taco Bell should be hiring high school students but instead are hiring experienced adults. I can go on an on. The bottom line is that just because a business says they need a certain employee, doesn't mean that they can't train someone for the job if it means they have to pay fair wages for the skilled, experienced employee.