March 4, 2011
"I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights." -Bishop Desmond Tutu
The CNMI Senate wants the U.S. Congress to "weigh the impact" of granting the legal nonresident workers status. The CNMI Senate is proposing an un-American FAS-type status only to long-term workers who have worked in the CNMI for ten or more years. Far fewer years is the norm for legal nonresident workers to qualify for a green card under the U.S. immigration system. Ten years working for the horrible pay (many time no pay) and ill-treatment that the majority of the legal nonresidents had to endure in the CNMI, should qualify them for much more than a status that would keep them voiceless, disenfranchised and members of a underprivileged underclass ruled over by the "local" minority. The legal, long-term (five or more years) CNMI nonresident workers should be granted permanent U.S. residency immediately with a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
U.S. officials should weigh the impact that working under the unjust CNMI system has had on the legal nonresident workers and their families. What is the impact of earnestly working and never being paid? What is the impact of employers routinely stealing wages, making illegal deductions, failing to pay medical bills or otherwise violating contracts? What is the impact of filing labor complaints and never having the DOL-issued orders enforced? What is the impact of scam employers and recruiters? What is the impact of criminal-employers who collectively owe millions of dollars to thousands of cheated workers remaining unpunished with no consequences for their criminal acts? What is the impact of CNMI officials falsely claiming that abuses were not excessive, routine or ongoing?
The U.S. Congress must look at the issue of reparations for the cheated and abused nonresident workers. They may also consider issuing a formal apology to the nonresident workers and their sponsor governments for ignoring the ongoing plight of the legal, long-term nonresident workers, for failure to prosecute the abusers, and for allowing the routine theft of wages and abuses for decades on U.S. soil.
What would be the impact of establishing a new INA category that reflects more the ideals of apartheid than the democratic principles on which our country was founded? What would be the impact on the reputation of the United States?
The Saipan Tribune reports:
The amendment asks Congress to consider the economic and employment impacts and effects on U.S. citizens in the CNMI “of granting nonimmigrant workers improved legal status which entitles them to social welfare and employment benefits.”I am really missing something here. How can the act of the U.S. Congress granting status make a difference in "impact" that nonresidents have on the CNMI? The tens of thousands of nonresident workers are in the CNMI already and they have been making an "impact" for decades. The nonresident workers were brought to the CNMI legally with the endorsement and encouragement of CNMI "leaders" and officials. How can giving them status create a new impact? Any economic and employment impact was created when the CNMI created the guest worker program and continues today.
By a vote of 8-0, senators adopted Senate Resolution 17-42, Senate Draft 1 yesterday afternoon.
The resolution, introduced by Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), encourages Congress to adopt the Senate recommendation on improving the immigration status of guest workers.
It states in part that the CNMI Senate requests Congress “to accept” the FRIA Committee's recommendation “as a sensible compromise on improved legal immigration status for guest workers and retention of the right to self-government as guaranteed in the Covenant between the U.S. and the Commonwealth.”
What social welfare and employment benefits would the Senate's proposed FAS-type status provide? There are no CNMI social welfare programs. As it is now, the nonresident workers live in extreme poverty and every day they must make difficult choices based on severe economic restrictions. Choices that the low minimum wage (not a living wage) supported by CNMI leaders have forced: "Should I buy medication or food?" "Should I pay CUC or the rent?" "How can I sue for back wages, when I have no money for an attorney?"
Is it because the CNMI has such ridiculously low wages that the legislators assume that if granted some type of U.S. status that these new citizens (second class citizens if FAS-type is approved) would qualify for federal welfare programs? Would the CNMI demand impact funds much like the federal funds that they receive for FAS citizens under the Compact-Impact Agreement?
I am guessing (from what I read in the Saipan Tribune) that the CNMI legislators look at this FAS-type status as a way for the CNMI to collect more Compact-Impact aid from the U.S. taxpayers. These federal dollars assist Hawaii, Guam and the CNMI to offset the local expenses for education, heath and other government services that are incurred as a result of FAS citizens living in these places. The agreement between the U.S. and the Federated Associated States allows these non-U.S. citizens to travel to, and work and live in the U.S. territories and U.S. mainland.
Such FAS-type status should not be applied to legal, long-term nonresident workers who should be viewed as future citizens under U.S. immigration law. It would deny the long-term (five years or more), legal nonresident workers of ever becoming U.S. citizens with full rights and responsibilities. Ever --even if they someday opted to leave the CNMI to live and work in the United States where the argument about "self-government" would be moot.
The Senate's proposal is no "sensible compromise" since the majority of the people in the CNMI, including the nonresident workers and supporters, are asking the U.S. Congress to grant green cards and a pathway to citizenship to the legal, long-term workers who have worked in the CNMI as the previous petitions and testimonies prove.
It is not "sensible" to propose an un-American and un-democratic status. It has been decades since women won the right to vote and even longer since the former slaves won the right to vote. Our country does not now need to take a huge step backwards in progress for liberty, equality and democratic principles to support a CNMI society of the privileged and unprivileged. It does not need to endorse the continuation of the present CNMI system with all of its flaws that is based on a ruling class over a class denied of rights and privileges. Such a system encourages abuse and discrimination.
A proposal for FAS-type status is proposal to establish an apartheid-type system on U.S. soil. The CNMI Senators support and propose this status because it is the status that would make the least changes and would merely continue the oppression, disenfranchisement and discrimination of a large and valuable segment of the CNMI's society. It is the only status that would guarantee that the "locals" could keep their political and social power over the majority underclass of nonresidents.
If the U.S. Congress does decide to grant FAS-type status to the qualifying workers, then it would also have to take responsibility for the unjust local CNMI laws that would surely follow to ensure that CNMI government maintains its dictatorial grip on the unrepresented, but tax paying underclass. The U.S. Congress would have to accept responsibility for perpetuating the unjust system that has hurt so many innocent nonresident workers -- the very system that PL 110-229 intended to finally end. The Congress would have to answer to the abused workers and to their sponsoring governments.
Self government does not mean oppression of others. It does not mean failure to enforce laws if foreigners are the victims. It does not mean maintaining a failed system that has allowed for abuses, xenophobia and discrimination. It does not mean creating a new immigration category that supports the principles of apartheid, rather than democratic and just principles.