A Welcome Voice Calling for Justice for Long-Term CNMI Foreign Workers

"Federalization in the CNMI should serve as a model 
rather than an example of haphazard injustice." - Robert J. Misulich

January 1, 2011

Robert J. Misulich
Over the years, the plight of the guest workers has attracted attention from a diverse group of people:  the media, filmmakers, influential individuals who support human rights, elected leaders, policymakers, lawmakers and supportive non-profit organizations.  All of them have helped to shine a spotlight on the need for lasting reform and critical legislation that would grant permanent resident status to the long-term CNMI guest workers.

Today Unheard No More! welcomes Robert J. Misulich as another important voice who urges the United States Congress to right the wrongs of the flawed CNRA that excluded the provision for permanent status for the long-term CNMI guest workers.

Rob Misulich, a J.D. Candidate at the University of Washington, wrote an article for the Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal Association entitled, A Lesser-Known Immigration Crisis: Federal Immigration Law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It was published this week. This well-researched and well-written article analyzes the provisions of CNRA, and actions and inactions of Congress and the DHS. It makes a strong and clear argument for Congress to pass additional legislation granting permanent resident status to long-term CNMI guest workers.

I asked Mr. Misulich what prompted him to research and write about this issue.  He responded:
"The Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal, of which I am a member, covers current legal issues involving the Pacific Islands and East Asia. When I was selecting a topic for my comment, my intention was to cover a salient issue from this region that I could influence. I was already aware of the labor campaign in the Mariana Islands during the 1990s, so I began researching the current status of this issue. I found that although the garment manufacturing industry has left Saipan, thousands of guest workers remain, living in a very precarious legal and economic situation. While the abuses involving Saipan's garment manufacturing industry were well documented by the American media, the ongoing struggles facing the guest worker population have garnered very little attention. Moreover, it became clear to me that DHS's haphazard implementation of the federalization provisions of Pub. L. 110-229 could transform thousands of legal guest workers into illegal immigrants through no fault of their own. Realizing that this irrational and unjust situation deserves attention, I decided to write about this topic."
Upon graduation from the University of Washington in June, Mr. Misulich will be a law clerk for a appellate judge in Anchorage, Alaska. However, he said that he will be following future legislation on this issue.

It is exciting to read such an intelligent and spot-on analysis that underscores the need to connect the legal and judicial issues with the moral responsibility of the U.S. in ensuring justice for the long-term CNMI guest workers.  Mr. Misulich emphasizes the fact that the DHS and the CNRA ignore the fact that parents of U.S. citizen children regardless of how long they have lived in the CNMI, will be subject to deportation.  He states, "Currently, the parents of one-quarter of all children in the CNMI may be subject to deportation as “illegal entrants and immigration violators” on November 28, 2011. Deportations would presumably occur regardless of the amount of time a guest worker has resided in the CNMI."

He also points out what advocates have been trying to emphasize to both CNMI and federal officials when he states, "In fact, 15,816 guest workers have lived in the CNMI for five or more years, and have become de-facto CNMI permanent residents. With the federalization of CNMI immigration law under the CNRA, these individuals and their families face an uncertain future and potential deportation despite their legal entry into the CNMI, long-term residency, and substantial contributions to the CNMI economy."

Mr. Misulich spoke about problems related to the delay caused by the injunction, and the absence of a status provision in the CNRA.  He states, "The CNRA and its enabling regulations appear reasonable on their face. However, a failure of proper rulemaking led to an injunction against essential regulations to carry out the transition, thereby preventing federalization from moving forward in the short-term. Moreover, the lack of a long-term permanent status provision places half of the CNMI population in an extremely precarious situation."


Mr. Misulich's arguments echo the ones that I made in 2007, 2008 and 2009 in written testimony and status reports submitted to the House and Senate Hearings and to DHS regarding federalization and the urgency to grant status with a pathway to U.S. citizenship to CNMI's long-term foreign contract workers.

The "grandfathering provision" that was present in HR. 2039, the bill that would become the CNRA, was grossly inadequate, but at least it granted restricted nonimmigrant residency to some of the long-term nonresidents.  It was removed from H.R. 2039 at the House Committee Markup Hearing that I attended on November 7, 2007. At that hearing I presented the committee with hundreds of letters from the foreign workers, a petition and written testimony, a position paper, on the bill that argued the critical need to include a provision providing the long-term foreign workers immigrant status.

In March 2010, the guest workers and their supporters submitted a Petition with 2,636 online signatures and an additional over 4,000 hand-written signaturesto a variety of federal officials requesting a direct pathway to citizenship for the legal long-term guest workers who have lived and worked in the CNMI for 5 or more years.

Among key points in Mr. Misulich's article is that "DHS should conduct proper rulemaking to improve federalization in the short-term and that Congress should amend the CNRA to normalize the long-term status of the CNMI guest workers." Specifically he suggests that Congress grant permanent residency status to the long-term CNMI guest workers and argues that previous federalize legislation included provisions to grant permanent status.  He also pointed out that the Virgin Islands Nonimmigrant Adjustment Act of 1981 provides additional support for a permanent status provision.

The article even suggests an easy way to provide status. He states:
"Congress should grant permanent immigrant status to guest workers who have resided in the CNMI for five or more years—a position adopted by the Department of the Interior in its April 2010 report to Congress, submitted as required by the CNRA. Adding a new “CNMI Nonimmigrant Worker Adjustment” group to the EB-4 “Certain Special Immigrants” category of the INA would be a convenient means to do so. This catch-all provision grants immigrant visas to ministers and other religious workers, certain overseas employees and retirees of the U.S. government, and others.  More recently, Congress added Iraqi and Afghan translators with the U.S. Armed Forces to this group, as well as Iraqis employed on behalf of the United States in Iraq after March 20, 2003, demonstrating Congress’s willingness to provide exceptions to the usual INA visa classifications in the spirit of fairness and justice."
Following Mr. Misulich's suggestion of adding another group to the EB-4 is brilliant, and surely would not be found objectionable by even the most conservative Members of Congress.  It is more than clear that the long-term CNMI foreign workers who have entered the U.S. legally should in no way be classed or affiliated with illegals immigrants.

Mr. Misulich further states:
"Although well intentioned, the current federalization program lacks necessary provisions to normalize the status of long-term guest workers and their families. Thousands of guest workers are the parents of U.S. citizen children who have been raised in the CNMI and know no other place. As it is, the law causes serious hardship and potentially splits families apart and harms children. It also deprives the CNMI of the workforce it needs to rebuild its economy...

...As Congress enacted specific legislation to normalize the status of guest workers in the USVI, recognizing their long-term economic contributions and de-facto permanent residence, Congress should do the same for the 15,816 guest workers who have lived in the CNMI for five or more years. Doing so would prevent the extreme and irrational injustice of subjecting long-term legal residents and parents of one-quarter of CNMI children to deportation. Funding and provision of services concerns raised by certain local politicians are unsubstantiated and are not indicative of public opinion in the CNMI.223 To alleviate any such concerns, Congress should create a task force to determine the impact of normalization on the fiscal status of the CNMI and provide adequate compensation to meet these needs.

Federalization of immigration law in the CNMI is incomplete without a provision to normalize the status of long-term guest workers. Subjecting thousands of legal workers to deportation, through no fault of their own, is flatly unjust. Congressional action enacted from a distance of 7,800 miles must be well informed and must take into account the unique circumstances of the CNMI."
Read Rob Misulich's article, A Lesser-Known Immigration Crisis: Federal Immigration Law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.


Anonymous said...

This is indeed a welcome and important article. Thanks for posting it. May it help the cause.

Anonymous said...

Concerning adding a category to he EB -4, how can we convince Congress to do this? What committee oversees this? Could Kilili introduce legislation?

Anonymous said...

Any person of intelligence understands how "spot on" this article is. Racism, xenophobia and stupidity are prevalent in this community, and in congress, and will continue to rear its ugly head.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 11:53

The Natural Resources Committee or Subcommittee on Insular Affairs could take this up. When the new Congress convenes there will new Republican chairs leading the committees. Will the Republicans even address this? It would be up to Congressman Sablan and friends in the Asian Pacific and Hispanic caucuses to convince them. If they could separate this issue from the issue of illegal immigration, which is in no way connected, it could pass.

Today on his radio address the President called for cooperation between the Republicans and Democrats. I think the Republicans have behaved primarily as obstructionists for two years. Maybe they will behave differently now that they control the house.

Another problem is that too many elected members of Congress care more about being re-elected and serving special interests than they care about doing what's in the best interest of the country. In 2008, the talk was that the "federalization" bill would never pass. It did. We'll have to see, and we'll have to fight harder for justice.

Anonymous said...

Good luck getting the incompetents in DC to do the right thing by anyone. They are focused on one thing and one thing only. The 2012 elections.

Anonymous said...

This is nothing new and doesn't change the law which is unlikely to be voted on again, but eloquently written nonetheless. The US may soon joined the bankrupt and now pay 11% of the GNP on debt service, record numbers unemployed, and more that can;t afford housing. The Congress will not tackle reform soon and will not modify this law.

Anonymous said...

Including long-term guest workers under EB-4 is a new idea to me!

Anonymous said...

Mr Misulich means well but doesn't live here and doesn't grasp, or doesn't see the depth of our poverty here, which will not improve with so many unemployed workers being frozen in the CNMI. This strategy would insure that the NMI looks like the third world for another generation.

Anonymous said...

Noni 9:21 And you don't grasp or understand what a green card or U.S. citizenship means. It does not tie someone to an island or a state. Doing the right thing and granting permanent residency in no way should be decided by the state of the CNMI's economy. And by the way, if the workers were to get such a status the economy would improve. These people are survivors and entrepreneurs. And if the CNMI looks like the 3rd world for generations, then blame the politicians and not innocent people who can't even decide what idiots get elected and can't vote.

Anonymous said...

Thank you 6:31. It's getting pretty old listening to the whining from the old fuddy-duddies (white and local) that ruined this island and who will miss the cheap help and free money made off the backs of the unfortunate and swindled. Time to thin out the voting base and really change things.