Unheard No More! Pays Tribute

December 31, 2010

Unheard No More! recognizes and pays tribute to the following people, government offices and organizations for their extraordinary contributions to improve the lives of the nonresidents, guest workers and residents in the CNMI during 2010.

Congressman Gregorio Kilili Sablan and Staff

Congressman Sablan has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for every person who calls the CNMI their home. He has made many powerful friends in Congress from both sides of the political aisle, which has helped to advance the political agenda of the CNMI.  He is truly respected by his peers.

Congressman Sablan is a member of important congressional committees and caucuses including the Committee on Education and Labor, and its Subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and Workforce Protections; and the Committee on Natural Resources, and its  Subcommittees on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, and Energy and Mineral Resources. He belongs to the following caucuses: Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, American Citizens Abroad Caucus, Community College Caucus, National Marine Sanctuary Caucus, Congressional Military Family Caucus, Congressional Wildlife Refuges Caucus, Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus, Congressional Victim's Rights Caucus, House Hunger Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Central Asia.

Kilili and his dedicated staff work tirelessly to get funding for a wide variety of CNMI programs and institutions.  Issues he has addressed in 2010 include immigration, health care, public education, energy, law enforcement, tourism, the environment and submerged lands,  He has brought millions of critically needed federal dollars to the CNMI, and he continues to fight for funds.

Congressman Sablan takes time to meet with the people.  Not just those that have elected him, but every person who lives in the CNMI, was born there, or has a connection to the islands.  He holds public town hall meetings and meet and greets residents at the street market.  Congressman Sablan listens to and weighs all sides of issues. He arranged for visiting members of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and  Wildlife to meet with the guest workers and their families in Saipan in 2009. Congressman Sablan has given hours to meet with me in Washington, DC or to communicate with me long distance to discuss foreign workers' issues. Even though we are sometimes at odds over specifics, he listens, explains his position and always respectfully agrees to disagree. 

His staff is among the friendliest in Washington, DC.  Each person who visits the office is welcomed and treated as an old friend.  He and his staff exemplify the Chamorro attributes of generosity and hospitality.

Congressman Sablan doesn't waste money or time. His office and living quarters are extremely humble and show none of the opulence or ego on display in many other congressional offices. Congressman Sablan has a heart.  He genuinely cares about children, veterans, families and the man'amko.

The people of the CNMI are fortunate to have Kilili representing them in Washington, DC. If he accomplished so much as a freshman congressman, imagine what's ahead in the next two years!

United States Attorney and F.B.I. Saipan Offices and NMPASI

Imagine law enforcement in the CNMI without the U.S. Attorney's Office or FBI. In contrast to the CNMI law enforcement agencies, these public servants are well-trained, nonpolitical, professional and hardworking.  From prosecuting drug traffickers and human smugglers, to massage-gate and election-gate, the federal law enforcement agencies have been working tirelessly to end corruption, promote justice and ensure public safety though the prosecution of criminals.

In particular, the violations within the Juvenile Detention Center and the lack oversight and cooperation by the CNMI government was contrasted by the bold actions of the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy System, Inc. (NMPASI). In June 2010 the U.S. Attorneys Office indicted Tyron Farley Reyes Fitial, a guard at the Kagman Juvenile Detention Center, charging him with sexual assault of a minor.  A September 2010 superseding indictment charged the guard with threatening and sexually assaulting three female children at the facility. The guard was ordered to be held without any form of release.

NMPASI is Congressionally mandated to protect and advocate the civil rights of persons with disabilities. The agency filed a lawsuit  against Melvin Faisao, Secretary of the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary after both the DCCA and the CNMI OAG refused to to allow them access at the Kagman Juvenile Detention Center so they could provide services for their clients being held there.

Aside from concerns of sexual assaults on the children being held at the center, there are also concerns about the absence of educational classes and teacher, which are being investigated by these agencies.

A visiting federal judge ordered that Faiso provide NMPASI with access for investigations and educational training.  Reforms forced by these agencies will improve the conditions at the facility and put an end civil rights abuses and criminal violations.

Guma' Esperansa, Lauri Ogumoro and Sister Stella Mangona

Guma' Esperansa provides shelter to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Shelter manager and social worker, Lauri Ogumoro, lovingly and skillfully oversees the shelter.  Sister Stella Magona is involved in ministering the victims at Guma Esperansa, which is a program under the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa.

I have visited the shelter twice. It should serve as a model for similar programs across the U.S.  Sister Stella and Lauri are truly selfless, dedicated and knowledgeable. They are true advocates for humanity, the guest workers and every woman and child in the CNMI.

The shelter has six rooms, but this year Guma Esperansa has had to rent a house due to the increase in domestic violence in the CNMI.

Although the shelter receives some federal funding, private contributions will help the program to continue to provide and expand their much-needed services.  Please consider making a tax-deducible donation. Contributions can be made to:
Guma Esperansa-House of Hope
Catholic Diocese of Chalan Kanoa
P.O. Box 500745
Chalan Kanoa, Saipan, MP 96950
Tony Babauta Assistant Secretary, Department of Insular Affairs, Department of Interior

PL 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, mandated that the Secretary of Interior report to Congress no more than 2 years after the enactment of the act concerning the current status of the aliens in the CNMI and make any recommendations on whether the Congress should grant lawful CNMI long-term guest workers status.

The much-anticipated Report from the Department of Interior that was released in April 2010 was straight forward, articulate, and thorough.

The statement that every foreign contract worker, every advocate, and every person with a moral compass hoped would be in the report, was included in the report:
"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."
I support immediate U.S. citizenship be granted to the foreign workers by an Act of Congress. My second choice would be that an unobstructed pathway to citizenship be granted to long-term legal workers who have resided in the CNMI for 5 or more years, with no other conditions such as being chained to the CNMI for any length of time, or any nonimmigrant status. The foreign workers have already shown their commitment and loyalty to the CNMI by the length of time that they have resided in the CNMI, and by the valuable skills and amount of hard work that they have provided. The DOI Report reflects this sentiment.

The report stirred much emotion and reaction, including racism and an anti-worker sentiment from a very small, but vocal segment of the community led by Governor Fitial, the Covenant Party members and groups supporting indigenous rights.  Through all of the propaganda, criticism and unfounded attacks, Assistant Secretary Babauta remained firm and dignified.

The report demonstrates much hard work and meticulous thought by Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta, the Federal Ombudsman Pamela Brown, and others who had input on this report. 

 Alex Gibney

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney uses film to educate the public on important issues, injustices and corruption. His 2010 release of Casino Jack and the United States of Money brilliantly detailed the corruption of convicted felon and lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his friends from Washington, DC to the CNMI.  The film highlighted the abuses of the foreign workers in the CNMI shining a national spotlight on the issue.

Gibney's film is part of a campaign by Participant Media, which encourages movie viewers not just to get educated on the issue, but to take action and strengthen our government by fighting to end the corruption within the political system.

The film also feature three of my favorite people who advocate for justice for the foreign workers: Congressman George Miller (D-CA), Ombudsman Pamela Brown and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Benedetto.

Using film to promote democracy and social justice is not new, but Alex Gibney's promotion of the issue at film festivals, private screenings, in interviews, on websites and in the media has taken the the use of film to force reform and social action to higher levels.


Anonymous said...

Something, or someone seemed to be missing from your list. Tina! She's been constantly out there with challenges, lawsuits, and open government and freedom of information requests, with the goal of making government more transparent, more productive, and less corrupt. Tina should be on this list. Unlike others who left the legislature, she didn't stay silent. She is earnest and in her personal capacity has continued to pursue justice.

Wendy said...

Happy New Year 9:48

Tina made last year's list! She did more in 2009 than 2010, but of course she should always be on the top of everyone's list! She rocks!

Anonymous said...

Someone is missing on your list. Whose missing? Ma'm Wendy! Thank you for your work for the guest workers. Other people on your list are paid to do a job, but you helped us since forever not because its your job. Because you care and you have a great heart. Over years some people help, then they stop. You are always on our side. THANK YOU AND HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.

Wendy said...

Thank you Anonymous 10:42. It's been my honor and pleasure to help the guest workers and their families. Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Great list! Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

You can never please everyone when making picks like these, but overall the selected have promoted worker rights or justice in the NMI. Good choices!