More on the Senate Hearings: Eye Witness Accounts

February 25, 2011



Someday, maybe sooner than we think, we will look back on these days when some of us objected so strenuously to a pathway to citizenship for people who were in fact our own family members, neighbors, friends, and colleagues, and we will be ashamed. By then, at least some of those individuals will have become U.S. citizens anyway despite all these efforts to hold them back and keep them down. Someday we will all understand that the enhancement of their status and rights did not in any way diminish our own status and rights. And we will see that their voices do matter, and have always mattered, and their full participation in our community and our democracy is a blessing for all of us.
                                                -Tina Sablan, Testimony to Senate Hearing February 24, 2011

The final Senate Hearing on status for long-term nonresident workers was held in Tinian last night.
The Tinian Senate Hearing was attended by about 35 nonresident workers and 10-15 residents. Two members of the United Workers Movement, Rabby Syed and Ronnie Doca attended.

Seven residents spoke.  One nonresident spoke for U.S. citizenship. Other nonresidents told Mr. Syed that they were monitoring the hearing, but not speaking because the U.S. Congress will decide the status of the nonresident workers, not the CNMI Legislature They have already sent letters and petitions to the federal officials expressing their desire for a pathway to u.S. citizenship.

The Saipan Hearing was said to have the best attendance of a public hearing ever held in the CNMI. The room could hold only 230 people and there was tight security. When people left some people among the hundreds that waited outside listening on loud speakers, were allowed in.

The Saipan Tribune reported that Senator Pete Reyes, claimed to be "hurt" that the nonresidents were upset with the report:
Reyes said the Senate committee is somewhat taken aback that they have become a target of criticism mostly by nonresidents, for taking a stand on something that the same nonresidents would benefit from.

The former Senate president also said it seems to the committee that many members of the community have not fully understood what the Senate committee's draft recommendation to Congress really is.

“I'm hurt that people have started verbally attacking us. This is not a very popular move,” Reyes said at the public hearing, adding that it is neither a popular political move.

Reyes pointed out that what the Senate committee is proposing is a status that will allow nonresident workers to continue to live and work in the CNMI, or travel to the U.S. and its territories.
Witnesses at the Saipan hearing said that Senator Reyes told the attendees that the Senate displayed courage and boldness to declare the nonresidents workers were deserving of improved status. He claimed to be "hurt" that the nonresidents didn't appreciate the "gesture" or significance and even criticized Rabby Syed claiming that he had told the Senator he just wanted stable status. Actually, Rabby and another member of the UWM told the Senator that the nonresident workers were not interested in taking political power away from the residents, which is a far cry from saying that they don't want full or political rights.

All of the people of the CNMI may benefit if the members of the legislature studied the U.S. Constitution. Protests, dissent, and the criticism of government officials and their actions are essential to expose truth and institute reform. Did these legislators seriously believe they could exclude testimony unfavorable to their position, and include untruths and misinformation in the report, and not expect to be taken to task? It is offensive to witness an elected leader trying to play the role of the victim when someone disagrees with him/her. The Senators are not victims. They are aware of their offenses and need to make amends.

Claiming that the CNMI Legislature is generous for tossing the FAS-status crumb to the legal, long-term nonresident workers is sad. They know that FAS status is not applicable in this situation and that it is another desperate attempt to keep the workers indentured, disenfranchised and totally powerless. The nonresident workers have been a vital part of the community for decades and deserve to have an immediate pathway to U.S. citizenship without anymore nonsense, debates, detours, or hoops to jump through.

Other sensible testimony was delivered by residents. Glen Hunter pointed out that CNMI Department of Labor official Barry Hirschbein couldn't come up with any statistics or numbers when questioned about the nonresident workforce, but in his testimony the DOL official criticized the Department of Interior for their data and statistics. Glen also correctly pointed out that it was the CNMI that was responsible for political, social and economic "impacts" of the guest worker population, and not the federal government. He said it was time to move forward and look at the humanitarian issues concerning the nonresident workers that were already in the CNMI and do the "right  thing to push for better status for them."

Some nonresident workers felt that the local people and Senators wanted to continue the terrible CNMI guest worker program forever and keep them as indentured servants one step above slavery.

Reggie Diesta, a nonresident who has lived and worked in the CNMI for 22 years spoke for a pathway to U.S. citizenship.  Former nonresident worker, Conrad O'Campo who now has a green card said that he went to the mainland and returned to the CNMI because he missed his family and home. Conrad said what many nonresidents have said, that the nonresidents workers won't leave the CNMI if they are granted green cards or U.S. citizenship status.



















Former CNMI Representative Tina Sablan's Testimony truly catches the sentiment of the majority of the nonresidents, advocates and many CNMI residents:
Testimony of Tina Sablan to the
Members of the 17th Senate of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands on the
Draft Senate Report Regarding the Future Status of CNMI Guest Workers
February 24, 2011 
Good evening, senators. My name is Tina Sablan, and I am here as a concerned citizen and member of this community. Thank you for this opportunity to submit comments in response to your draft report regarding the future status of the CNMI’s long-term guest workers.
I would like to begin by addressing the report’s characterization of public sentiment expressed at the public hearings that were held by the senate last year. The report describes the public as being “overwhelmingly alarmed” at the prospect of granting nonresident workers an immigration status that would allow them to become citizens of the United States. The report also suggests that no one at these hearings expressed support for a pathway to U.S. citizenship. 
I was a member of the public who attended several of these hearings. I also submitted oral testimony. I was not alarmed. I was and still am also strongly supportive of the proposal to grant permanent residency and a pathway to U.S. citizenship for guest workers who have lived and worked in the CNMI for five years or more. 
There were others who attended these public hearings and submitted testimonies, who were also in favor of a pathway to U.S. citizenship. Written testimony was submitted, for example, by the United Workers Movement, on behalf of more than 7,000 individuals who had signed petitions to U.S. Congress calling for permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for CNMI guest workers. These petitioners included guest workers as well as indigenous and non-indigenous U.S. citizens. 
None of these testimonies was acknowledged at all in the draft senate report. 
Most of the hearings last year were not exactly well-attended, and the several people I heard who expressed anything remotely close to alarm seemed primarily upset with the CNMI’s relationship with the United States and the way the Department of Interior report was prepared, rather than with the actual content of that report. Some of these individuals attended multiple hearings to express these sentiments, and for some reason their testimonies received far greater emphasis and attention in the senate’s draft report than the testimonies of other people who had also participated in the hearings. 
I submit to you that the lackluster turnout at the senate hearings was due at least in part to fears, which I also understood and shared, that the senate committee would either ignore or distort testimonies not consistent with their views or the views of the politically connected, and that the report would be biased in favor of an already-decided outcome. After all, prior to the senate hearings, the legislature had already adopted resolutions expressing opposition to the Department of Interior report, and indeed during the hearings we heard members of the legislature reiterate that opposition, with one member even describing the United States as the CNMI’s “enemy. 
The senate report only confirms that our fears were well-justified, as it seems that not all testimonies and viewpoints were in fact fairly considered by the senate committee in drafting their report. 
Second, I would like to address the substance of the senate’s recommendation. The senate proposes that long-term guest workers who have given ten years or more of their lives to the CNMI should be granted a status similar to that of the citizens of the Freely Associated States. The senate further proposes that these workers should be required to remain in the CNMI for five years from the date of enactment of U.S. Public Law 110-229. They would not be considered lawful permanent residents on a pathway to U.S. citizenship. They would not be free to exercise the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship. And they would still be vulnerable to abuse and discrimination. 
FAS status is a status negotiated by the United States with other nations. But we here in the CNMI are part of the United States, and federal immigration law now fully applies here. I am frankly surprised and disappointed that the Department of Interior even included the FAS option in their report because when we really stop to think about it, it makes little sense. It would be totally contrary to fundamental democratic values to create some new immigration category that would deny an entire group of people the opportunity to someday partake in the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship, no matter how long they live and work in this country. 
If we really think about it, that type of status would not be all that different from the old, bitterly divisive, and often shameful guest worker system that once prevailed here. Perhaps that is why some people prefer FAS-type status for guest workers who are here: it represents the least amount of change to a system of inequality that people sadly became used to – a system that should never have been created here in the first place, and that desperately needed to be shut down. 
To those who oppose the granting of permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for people who have been part of our community for many years, I appeal to you to search your own hearts and your values. Have you treated guest workers so badly that you would be fearful that they might someday be able to live, work, travel, and participate in government freely? Is your confidence in your cultural and political strength so weak that you would try to limit the freedom and opportunity of another group of people living and working peacefully with you? If the truthful answer to either of these questions is “yes,” then the truthful response is that your fears and insecurities will not go away even if every single guest worker in the CNMI were to be removed tomorrow. These fears and insecurities are entirely internal, and we must look inward and we must look deeply if we are ever to hope to resolve them. For my part, I do not think there is anything to fear. 
In closing, I should say that despite my deep misgivings about the senate report, I am glad that at least our senators were reasonable enough to not recommend that all guest workers should be immediately sent back to their countries of origin upon expiration of their umbrella permits. I am glad that the senate has recognized the valuable contributions of guest workers as true members of our community, though not full members of our democracy. I am glad that they recognized the need for stability in the workforce and in many of our families. I am also glad that even those individuals who opposed the Interior report and who were quoted extensively in the senate report, did not once during last year’s hearings deny that guest workers have contributed tremendously to the life of our community. 
The senate report encourages U.S. Congress to consider the voices of the indigenous people in deliberations on the future status of guest workers. That is fine, of course, but it should go without saying that all voices should be heard in this matter, because in a democracy, all voices count. And I would encourage not only U.S. Congress, but also this body, and all our elected local leaders, to listen to the voices of all the people they represent, including those who cannot vote, and those who have spoken in favor of a pathway to citizenship for them. 
Someday, maybe sooner than we think, we will look back on these days when some of us objected so strenuously to a pathway to citizenship for people who were in fact our own family members, neighbors, friends, and colleagues, and we will be ashamed. By then, at least some of those individuals will have become U.S. citizens anyway despite all these efforts to hold them back and keep them down. Someday we will all understand that the enhancement of their status and rights did not in any way diminish our own status and rights. And we will see that their voices do matter, and have always mattered, and their full participation in our community and our democracy is a blessing for all of us. 
Thank you again for this opportunity to submit these comments.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Ms. Tina Sablan for the great testimony submitted.

the teacher said...

Eventhough groups of workers seem very divided, they certainly gave the microphone to the right person, as Tina gave powerful testimony.

Anonymous said...

tina sablan,wendy doromal you will be in our hearts and memories forever..thank you for all your endless support to all of us..and to all of those who support and understands...thank you!!!

Captain said...

It seems these elected are oblivious to what goes on around them and only act on what is in their own mind that they themselves have derived from their imagination and come to believe is true.
The statement made by Reyes is typical from these clowns that are out of touch.
Seems like none of them read, care or have any concerns of others regardless of the nationality. They live in their own closed world and have insulated themselves from the rest of the community, unless it has something to do with with their own personal gain.
An example of this is in regards to the comments made by some of the elected about the lack of knowledge of the unpaid wages of the Rota Casino workers,the Nurses and also the Tinian Dynasty workers.(also the over $6mil owed to many of the workers for so many years)

These people holding the hearings trying to impose their own thinking on the spectators and making detrimental comments to the commenters during a public hearing and then ignoring the submitted written along with public testimonies in their own reports, that goes against their own personal beliefs is just one of the reasons this NMI has so much problems.
If any of them ever started to listen to the peoples ideas and look at other areas and then take action based on what works instead of what does not work,then maybe we can start to recover from the downward spiral and will start to come out of this era of economic and political stagnation.

These elected recycled misfits just continue to show reasons of why they should not have been reelected or be retained.
It is way past time for them to be replaced so we all can move forward.

The one thing that these present hearings have accomplished is to expose this committees lies and to show the US that there truly is interest by the people that any confired status will effect and that there is not a majority of local sentiment against such status.
We shall have to wait and see what will come from the US now and when.

Anonymous said...

Captain well said!

Anonymous said...

Teacher said: Even though groups of workers seem very divided, they certainly gave the microphone to the right person, as Tina gave powerful testimony.
Teacher said: I would never sign that petition, as it is asking for a green card and citizenship for every foreign national in the Commonwealth, which was not the intent of federalization.

To: TEACHER actually what do you want?
Don't make ourselves confused and don't make yourself confused.

the teacher said...

I am not in favor of every foreign national in the CNMI getting a green card or citizenship and I never have been. America doesn't owe anything to anyone, immigration scammers and fraudsters don't diserve anything, and the American people don't support this as helpful immigration reform, especially given the current economy.

The investor regs will help the CNMI by opening opportunity for young citizens at the expense of some who have plagued the CNMI people and economy like parasites. The hundreds of small business operators DON'T HIRE CITIZENS, DIDN'T INVEST IN A US INVESTOR VISA (or even an NMI INVESTOR VISA), and are THE PRIMARY SOURCE OF LABOR ABUSE AND NON-PAYMENT.

I was for federalization to help the people here and clean up the broken labor and immigration system. Many people here are currently working for foreign nationals making 50. a week or less waiting for a green card...you want me to start naming the businesses? How about the Riviera Hotel as an example...they are owned by a Korean national that has never invested in a US investor visa and haven't paid workers, mostly from PI, in ages (ave 3k each behind) and workers say nothing because they have no other employer and they are holding out for a green card that is not in the law. I was for improved status but I am also for the rule of law and blanket green cards are not in the regs...what do you want me to do about it?

Anonymous said...

The Teacher,

So what would you do if one of the Rivera Hotel employees were to marry a US citizen today? Would you protest his or her ability to gain US citizenship via marriage because they should not be out here just holding on?

What if one of the investors that you speak poorly of had a child here? Would you protest the child being conferred US citizenship by birth because they are not meeting your personal standard for being here in the CNMI?

Is marriage and birth any different? If so, why? If not, why not?

What is so different in those scenarios as compared to granting a pathway to citizenship to all foreigners who are legally present in the CNMI today.

Green Cards for All? said...

The notion that opponents of widespread Green Cards for All will someday be "ashamed" or worthy of derision by those enlightened enough to support this unprecedented largesse rests upon a flawed presumption.

The universal Green Card proponents chauvinistically presume that U.S. citizenship is infinitely superior to that of all other nations, most particularly that of the Republic of the Philippines. This is wrong.

The RP is a great country. Instead of contributing to worldwide income disparity by skimming off the cream of the crop and creating a brain drain in the RP, we should be doing what we can to promote a sustainable culture of economic development in the so-called third world.

Handing out bonus Green Cards as compensation for deficient enforcement efforts here in the USA further victimizes those left behind in the RP. We are selfishly focusing on building up the CNMI to the detriment of communities in the sending nations. That is where the shame should be!

OK, the final sentence may be hyperbole, but so is Ms. Sablan's declamation.

There are good and honorable people with decent motives on all sides of this debate. We should not impute evil motives to others.

the teacher said...

Answers for Noni above:

"So what would you do if one of the Rivera Hotel employees were to marry a US citizen today? Would you protest his or her ability to gain US citizenship via marriage because they should not be out here just holding on?"

No, that person was within the law and may, or may not, qualify for citizenship.


"What if one of the investors that you speak poorly of had a child here? Would you protest the child being conferred US citizenship by birth because they are not meeting your personal standard for being here in the CNMI?"

Thats multiple questions but yes, I speak poorly of all of our non-paying so called "investors" and no I wouldn't protest the US citizen child because US law covers that and no ones opinion is important on that matter, even the US House members against anchor children.

"Is marriage and birth any different? If so, why? If not, why not?"

Most agree marriage is more closely related to death than birth but as it relates to citizenship being born here means your an automatic American and marriage means you may apply and may or may not qualify.

"What is so different in those scenarios as compared to granting a pathway to citizenship to all foreigners who are legally present in the CNMI today."

All, does that mean the 5 year, the ten year, or tourists too?

Anonymous said...

Green Cards For All? Any status is offered not mandatory. Any Filipino citizen (Or for that matter any foreign citizen) can refuse a green card and return to their homeland. When the time comes, it will be their choice to accept or refuse. The legal CWs over 5 years have earned U.S. permanent resident status based on the INA and U.S. law.

Anonymous said...

NOO NE EVER SAID THAT TOURISTS SHOULD QUALIFY FOR GREEN CARDS OR ANY STATUS!WHY CONFUSE ISSUES?

the teacher said...

noni - Because legally present today may (or may not) mean covered by the Guvs umbrella, not employment, investment, or any other standing generally associated with legal immigration status in the US. The test is simple, "do you have a legal employer or an investment permit". Many employers here are actively getting that together. IT&E, Duty Free, hotels, and others are filing work visas, L visas, and others through the proper channels. We have always known the definition of a guest worker is based on employment, to expect improved status because one was made "legal" by the temporary umbrella permit is unrealistic. The umbrella covered maids, dancers, and others not covered in proper work categories. That may not be what you want to hear but I believe it to be the true as I understand the federalization law.

When twenty foreign nationals operate a business to give themselves employment, that business will not meet USCIS criteria, and rightfully so, so who is the cheat and who is the victim? The businesses swept away by the investor regulations will be pawn shop owners, karaoke bars, strip club operators, and other businesses long known for labor and human rights abuses. I have no sympathy for illegal scammers who have profited for years and are now panicking because their time is up. Please take your karaoke/strip operations and go back to wherever you came from.

If your a guest workers working then you shouldn't have any concerns.

Anonymous said...

Captain you coherently explained the situation here spot on. Great job.

The teacher has had one to many..

Anonymous said...

"A final concern still unanswered and causing much uncertainty is a key issue that initiated federal legislation, and that is what to do with legal contract guest workers. This administration and many foreign owned businesses don’t want them to leave, don’t want their wages to increase, don’t want them to have the right to change employers, and they still want to retain the status quo of servitude. Some want older CGWs deported because they are owed at least 6 million dollars in judgments for non-payment and to replace them with a younger class of guest worker. This is further complicated by the well being of thousands of U.S. citizen children who have resided here their entire lives. The only logical answer is to improve the status of legal workers here with an unobstructed path to U.S. citizenship.
Remember, teacher you're the one that quoted on behalf of Guest Workers to US Congressman. Are you one of them who uses Guest Workers for any hidden reason? So what's the difference between you and....???

the teacher said...

"Had one to many" "uses GW for any hidden reasons" and the noni trolls can't discuss anything with civility, not a single point. You do whatever you like and call me whatever you want, but I suggest you have some answers for the questions I've asked and points others have commented on. I believe USCIS is gearing up for change in the CNMI. I didn't write the law, but like wearing seat belts, we will comply and obey the law whether we like the terms or not. The regs for investors will clean out illegal operators and I personally think those regulations were brilliant. I think the NMI will be a better place when they are gone, but that is just my opinion. I don't know how worker rules can or may be altered but I am of the opinion that any improved status is highly unlikely in the near foreseeable future due to the recent US election, the terrible US economy, and the current attitudes of Americans toward immigration reform.

Cheers

Wendy said...

I know the teacher, and he certainly hasn't "had one too many." Some of his points are valid, although I don't agree with all of them regarding the future of legal foreign investors.

He is right that there are some unsavory businesses in the CNMI. Some of the massage parlors and clubs, which are really houses for human trafficking victims come to mind. Some of the pawn shops that knowingly accept obviously stolen items are also questionable. I am not sure how these places benefit the community or why the CNMI has licensed them. The teacher is also correct in saying that some people have just created scam businesses. All of these will likely close.

I also agree with the people who recognize that under CNMI law many foreigners were lured to the CNMI to open businesses under the CNMI's rules which allowed for smaller investments. If these people have legitimate businesses and are properly licensed then they should be considered for permanent US status. They should be allowed to continue with their legitimate businesses, (their only source of income). Some have no other "home" than the CNMI. I agree with federal officials and others who recognize that it would be inhumane to deport any such legally established business person and his/her family who has followed the rules, paid their taxes, renewed their license, paid their workers fairly, leased land for 55 years and put their life's savings into opening such a business.

I never heard of the Rivera Hotel. It sounds like it is not legitimate and should be investigated, as should others. The Tinian Dynasty and Rota Hotel, both foreign-owned and run are stealing wages from their employees! Some other locally owned businesses should also be investigated. I have been told that J.G. Sablan water company has been stealing wages for years and the nonresident workers have not been paid.