Transition to Federalization: The Long and Winding Road

January 11, 2011

The transition to federalization has been anything but smooth. The anti-federalization lawsuit Fitial initiated may have helped to put a kink in the process, and the delay in issuing the transitional worker regulations has caused misery and instability.

In a letter to the editor CNMI Department of Labor Hearing Officer Barry Hirshbein made some valid points about the messy transition from local to federal immigration and labor law.  Still some of his points were not valid.  He claimed not to be speaking in an official capacity, but he certainly showed he is drinking the Fitial Kool-Aid with his bizarre attack on the Federal Ombudsman's Office and other Fiital-type statements.

Like others in the Fitial Administration, Hirshbein doesn't seem to read the memos, statements or correspondence from the USCIS that attempt to clarify the status of the foreign workers during the transition period. Especially important to note would be any official statements regarding the guest workers' status in the CNMI until the new rule is issued sometime before March 2011.  Perhaps, Hirshbein and the others actually are aware of the statements and clarifications, but object to what they say, so they ignore them.

One unstated point of the letter seems to be that the CNMI DOL is angry that it has lost the revenue that it once made off the backs of the guest workers. The agency certainly liked raking in the bucks with all of their permits fees, but it never helped the workers collect the money their law-breaking employers owed them even after DOL issued administrative orders acknowledging that their employers owed back wages. Talk about karma.

This will be the theme of the Administration for the next few months. Others will come out crying for amending the CNRA and backing PL 17-1. Fitial will use his new membership in the Republican Party to convince the Republicans in Congress to back his plot.  In his tardy State of the Commonwealth letter, Fitial indicated that he wanted the CNRA amended so the CNMI could continue to collect fees off the backs of the guest workers. From the Saipan Tribune:
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial wants the now Republican-dominated U.S. Congress to amend the federal law that placed CNMI immigration under federal control, so that taxes paid to federal agencies by Commonwealth employers and residents could be returned or “covered over” to the local government.

He said his administration is now awaiting the installation of the members of the 112th U.S. Congress, including CNMI Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan, on Jan. 5 in Washington, D.C. (or Jan. 6 on Saipan).

The governor, who wants to go back to the CNMI Republican Party, said some provisions of U.S. Public Law 110-229 are “unnecessary and punitive.”

These include an “amendment of the Covenant so as to require that the immigration and naturalization fees by Commonwealth employers and residents to the federal government would not be returned to the CNMI government.” He said this is unlike Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“I do not see why the Commonwealth was treated in this discriminatory manner by Congress,” Fitial said in his written Dec. 30 State of the Commonwealth report to the CNMI Legislature.
Hirshbein is trying to back Fitial's cry to keep making money off of worker fees.  The CNMI DOL will not be administering the program, but wants to collect the fees? The Administration wants to follow the policies of the Virgin Islands? Great! Then let's have the U.S. Congress follow the precedent in the Virgin Islands and grant the long-term guest workers in the CNMI permanent residency! That way the foreign workforce will be reduced to zero because they will be U.S. citizens and the CNMI will have the skilled workforce it needs.

Hirshbein's  letter reads:
Essentially, the Federal Ombudsman's Office advised workers and employers to ignore CNMI Labor during the transition. This is hardly an “orderly” process. Transition is the changeover or conversion from one system to another. In this case there is nothing to convert to. If you phase-out of something there must be something to phase into. There is no federal process.

How does anything that the Federal Ombudsman's Office advised accomplish any of the objectives of the Congressional Intent? How do citizen workers benefit by advising foreign workers that they can work for any employer without assurance that there are no citizen workers qualified for the job?
The CNMI DOL wants to keep guest workers going to their offices to maintain local control over federal issues. The Federal Ombudsman's Office, which always acts on the advice from federal officials, is effectively trying to implement the new policies that actually are being phased in.

Hirshbein stated, "Giving workers hope of becoming Permanent Residents is at best irresponsible. It encourages desperate people, without jobs or income, to hang on as long as possible hoping for something that, at best, is unlikely and in fact highly improbable."

How ignorant of this man and this Administration not to acknowledge that the guest workers aren't leaving because they have no other home! In fact, it was the CNMI's local law that allowed guest workers to continually renew their contracts that forced this unfortunate and unstable situation.  Where does Hirshbein propose that these workers go without money, and without job opportunities?
He should be careful what he wishes for. If this Administration does not back permanent residency, it may very well lose the skilled and loyal foreign workforce, only to find that it can never be replaced.  If the dedicated guest workers do have to leave, what new foreign workers will opt to work temporarily in a place where the local government has supported the routine theft of wages from thousands of innocent workers; in a place where the labor laws have not been enforced; in a place where the leaders have shown little appreciation for the guest workers who spent years and even decades serving the CNMI and its people; in a place where elected officials make or back xenophobic and racist statements?


The USCIS announced:

"U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will have a team of subject matter experts in Saipan the week of January 24 to conduct outreach on the E-2 CNMI-Only Investor Visa, the Grant of Status memo, and foreign religious workers. Please see the attached information materials and memoranda which we shared with you previously.

We are available to provide briefings on these topics in Saipan during the week of January 24-28. If you would like to schedule a briefing, please send me an e-mail at and copy Janna Evans at Please note that we will not be able to discuss individual cases or the transitional worker program at these briefings. The transitional worker final regulations have not been published yet, and individual case inquiries should be directed to the Application Support Center at TSL Plaza in Saipan."


Anonymous said...

Hirshbein has lost it. He carps about the feds not retaining business permit holders, but ignores the fact the CNRA tasks DHS with making recommendations to the Congress about what to do with foreign investors, AND THAT THE CNMI GOVERNMENT STILL REFUSES TO SHARE ITS INFORMATION ABOUT WORKERS AND INVESTORS WITH DHS. Earth to Barry: no CNMI data, no special visas for foreign investors. You want to write something? Try writing to the governor and convincing him to start cooperating with the feds, instead of pardoning rapists.

Anonymous said...

Hirshbein intimated there was never any intention to provide improved status for CWs. Hogwash. Some of the original language revolved around just that... improving status. This was altered to "a review of the status" after the administration and xenophobes made a stink. It was a pacification tactic. Tony followed that up with his recommendations, which fell in line with the original proposed improvement of status.

Anonymous said...

See also Jaime R. Vergara, “Casino Jack, Mark, Tom and Barry,” Saipan Tribune, Wed., January 12, 2011 (Abramoff, Zachares, DeLay, and Hirshbein), available at

Anonymous said...

How much are we talking about here?

Let's estimate, 16,300cw @ $350ea. = $5.7Millions...oopps! no wonder they never stop barking and they won't let CWs go, easy money, huh!

Anonymous said...

Hate to break to the lib dems out there but immigration reform is no longer an issue. A flying fifth generation Chinese stealth fighter is now top priority. Ya think the US will want to deport the few thousand Chinese nationals on Saipan or give them a pathway to citizenship? LOL!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I saw Jaime Vergara's column, and thought "cool! He's going to take Hirshbein' stupid letter apart," but then I read a little further and realized he didn't know what the hell the point of his own column was. Unless he just wanted to show he knew words like "dialectical.". I think John DelRosario must be ghostwriting for him.

Anonymous said...

DelRosario bashes you over the head with befuddlement, while Vergara beats you with absolute boredom.

I'd think the smart policy would be to incorporate Chinese immigrants, who would play very useful roles as Americans in the new world order. Speaking of that, why aren't our schools teaching the Chinese language? Making sure our youth never get in front of the curve. A lot of good Chamorro and Carolinian will do them in 2020.

Immigration has always been good for America.

Anonymous said...

still DOL insisted on prioritize locals over CW in hiring; Gee! since I was here 20 yrs ago, they already doing that but until now does it work? especially under US Immigration? are this the only solution they still not change in their mind and believing that will work but NOT?

Anonymous said...

The Philippines has become a Chinese colony. In time, so will the Marianas.

Like locusts, the Chinese swarm in, sucking all available resources within their grasp and leaving little. While the Obama Administration bows down to the Communist dictator Hu, focuses his entire liberal agenda on immigration and Hillary Clinton "assures" them that their investments are safe we Americans had better start taking Mandarin and reading China's history.

Chairman Mao committed no atrocities, 2 + 2 = 5 and their is no such thing as human fetus soup in China.

God help us all.

Anonymous said...

Wow, some of the comments here are truly entertaining. LOL

Anonymous said...

Our children should be learning Mandarin. It will be as important as French and Spanish once was, and more recently as Japanese has been. If you want your children prepared for the future, teach them Mandarin. If not, waste their time with other languages.