CNMI Status Debate Continues

May 5, 2011

United Workers Movement Rally for Green Cards Photo by Itos Felicano ©2011

It was interesting to read Congressman Sablan's remark in the Marianas Variety  today, which responded to a previous story stating that DEKADA members and their U.S. citizen children met with the Congressman. He said:
The report, “Sagana: US Citizen Children Met With Sablan,” in your May 4, 2011 issue implies that Mr. Boni Sagana met with me or had a hand in arranging meetings with me.

I would like to clarify that after review of my office records I can find no verification of this claim.

Member of U.S. Congress
The article that Congressman Sablan was referring to was written by author Junhan Todeno and was published in the Marianas Variety on May 4, 2011. It stated in part:
Boni Sagana, Dekada Movement president, said he helped organize children of guest workers who are U.S. citizens to ask Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan to grant their parents CNMI-only resident status.

“I believe that was the result of their dialogue with Congressman Kilili,” he said, referring to the bill introduced by Sablan in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Sablan’s H.R. 1466 will grant parents of U.S. citizen children CNMI-only resident status.

The group of U.S. citizen children 12 years old and above met with Sablan, Sagana said.

“They were given an assurance that the congressman would look into the situation of their parents,” Sagana said, adding that the group was working independently and not affiliated with any guest workers group.

“We really appreciate the efforts of Congressman Sablan and we thank him for introducing that bill,” he said.
What's with the conflicting reports? Certainly Congressman Sablan would not deny such a meeting if it actually took place.

Comments attributed to Boni Sagana in the Saipan Tribune today that echo those of Rabby Syed who shares my beliefs that all legal, long-term nonresident workers, not just selected groups, should be given improved status, and that improved status has to be green cards.

But isn't the real question why would any nonresident worker want to take any kind of credit for a bill that would not provide green cards or a pathway to citizenship, but offers only an inferior second-class citizen, apartheid-type status that would keep the nonresident workers disenfranchised and voiceless? Why support legislation that leaves out equally deserving long-term, legal workers because of their marital or reproductive status? When we have the President of the United States advocating for a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens, why would any legal alien want to accept a restrictive and oppressive status?

I interpret the CNRA as a law enacted to align the CNMI with U.S. immigration laws.  I believe it is unwise to provide special classification for certain territories and states and view this as a step backwards that conflicts with the intent of the law. There is no Florida-only, California-only or Arizona-only status and hopefully there will never be a CNMI-only status.  It is not necessary. What is necessary is to grant an existing United States status to the workers -green cards with a pathway to citizenship or outright U.S. citizenship.

Boni Sagana was quoted by the Marianas Variety as stating that the bill "is a good beginning for the alien workers." I have heard that line before. When we were fighting to have status included in the CNRA, members of Congress and their staffers told me that removing the "grandfathering" provision that would have provides status (inferior also, but status) was "the only way" to get the bill to pass.  They assured me that a "better" status with a pathway to citizenship would follow. Well, I am waiting; the nonresident workers are waiting.  It appears this is the line that is used in Congress as an excuse to pass inferior legislation.

Whenever I hear someone defend the bill by saying that "it is a start" or "it is good enough" I want to ask them, "Is this a status that you would accept for yourself?  Would you be fine with being a resident of a locality for 20 or more years and having no political or social rights?"

As stated in a previous post, our nation needs to advance in immigration policy, not step backwards.

The bill only recognizes four specific groups as qualifying for upgraded status:
(I) was born in the Northern Mariana Islands between January 1, 1974, and January 9, 1978;
(II) was, on May 8, 2008, a permanent resident as that term is defined in section 4303 of Title 3 of the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Code in effect on May 8, 2008;
(III) is the spouse or child, as defined in section 101(b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(b)(1)), of an alien described in subclauses (I) or (II); or
(IV) was, on May 8, 2008, an immediate relative, as that term is defined in section 4303 of Title 3 of the Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Code in effect on May 8, 2008, of a United States citizen, not withstanding the age of the United States citizen, and continues to be such an immediate relative on the date of the application described under subparagraph (A).
Any immigration bill related to the long-term nonresident workers in the CNMI should address ALL of the long-term foreigner workers, not just selected groups. I agree with the upgrading of status for the CNMI permanent residents and those born in the CNMI January 1, 1974, and January 9, 1978. However, they should receive green cards or U.S. citizenship, not CNMI-only status.  Why a sub-status?

I object to the restrictions and selectiveness in the category of long-term foreign workers. Omitting certain categories of equally qualifying workers because of their marital status or reproductive status is discriminatory and perhaps unconstitutional. How can the United States Congress say that people who are married or people who have U.S. citizen children are in some way more qualified to work and live permanently in the CNMI than foreigners who have lived and worked there the same length of time or longer and are single, or have foreign children or no children?

The proposed legislation allows those selected-only nonresidents who resided in the CNMI as of November 28, 2009 to qualify for the improved status. If the legislation passes it would mean that even an alien who was in the CNMI even for a limited time would receive improved status and a person who has legally lived and worked in the CNMI for 30 years, but has no U.S. citizen spouse or children will be overlooked. That is plain wrong.

Passing such a bill could set a dangerous precedent and could delay meaningful legislation to give the long-term, legal workers a democratic status, a uniform status based on American ideals, a status that offers full political and social rights.

As for the unstable situation of the U.S. citizen children and their parents, it should have been addressed in the CNRA along with the status of all legal nonresidents.  I addressed this issue in 2007 at a meeting at Kilili Beach where hundreds of U.S. citizen children and their parents showed up to express their plea for green cards. A video of some of the children and parents is here.

In related news, I received an email from a friend saying he attended a function hosted by Congressman Sablan where the Congressman reported that President Obama was made aware of the CNMI situation during a Hispanic Caucus meeting.

The Saipan Tribune also reported that the President is aware of the plight of the foreign contract workers.

President Obama should be very aware of the situation concerning the status of the CNMI's foreign contract workers since Congressman Sablan has met with him several times and he received petitions signed by over 7,000 people imploring him to take action to support green cards and a pathway to citizenship for the legal nonresidents.  The President also received numerous reports, testimonies and letters from advocates and from the nonresident workers and their children.

I am glad that members of Congress now understand that there are gaps in the CNRA that must be corrected. I think one of the best analysis of the law and its problems is the law journal written by Robert Misulich. He noted the holes in the CNRA and offered a sensible solution:
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.222 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. With the specter of federalization of immigration law in
American Samoa, the last remaining U.S. insular area with its own immigration system, federalization in the CNMI should serve as a model rather than an example of haphazard injustice.


Anonymous said...

Now Sablan is the target. You won't hear ANY of his loyal followers criticize him or his proposed legislation. You and other bloggers have praised Sablan as an advocate for change and a fellow ultra liberal. It may boil down to this: A lot of people appear to support guest workers getting green cards and even attend prayer vigils. The truth is most of these people have low paid house keepers, nannies, farmers, etc. They DO NOT want to lose this luxury.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 12:01 Congressman Sablan is not my target. The legislation needs to be changed, and if anything is a "target" it is the legislation. I certainly never said that Congressman Sablan was an "ultra liberal" but I have praised him and many of his actions. He has represented the CNMI incredibly well in the short time he has been in office. He is very respected by other members of Congress and the Hispanic Caucus. This is a fact. Because I disagree with this legislation does not in any way mean that I am targeting him. No one is going to agree with everyone all the time. I like President Obama, but I disagree with some of his actions. I like my relatives, but disagree with their political views.

Yes, you are right, selfish people want to oppress others and take advantage of others. The corruption MUST end! If employees rob their employers' businesses they go to jail, but in the CNMI HUNDREDS of CRIMINAL employers have stolen MILLIONS of dollars from the nonresident workers and not only are they never charged or jailed, but no one seems to even see anything wrong with their criminal acts. REPARATIONS NOW!

The Saipan Blogger said...

They are going to lose this "luxury" regardless. The choice before the community is to have workers with basic democratic rights, or have no workers at all.

And you shouldn't throw around the word liberal without understanding what it means.

Anonymous said...

Even Sablan’s family says the bill is not fair. Why does the CNMI-only-one US congressman make it fair?

Anonymous said...

Give them all Citizenship so they have a vote. That will get rid of all of these useless elected and start the NMI on recovery.
OR have them ALL leave and go to New Zealand, Aust. or Canada where they will be treated better and become Cit. in one of those countries.
Leave the NMI to the useless business and elected that want to keep it status Quo with cheap labor along with the abuses.
Let the local workers take on all of the jobs as many have stated they will be able to do. See how many will work for those wages.
If all CW leave, this in itself will bring up the wages.
The other option is to have all of the workers at present qualify for "visa workers" and also have them paid the going rate as compared to Guam.
This will give the CW a three year time span to find a job elsewhere before they have to leave and will also in effect raise wages in the private sector along with many US residents will fill the vacancies as it would be cheaper to hire US rather than Visa workers.
But with increase in wages there will be requirements to actually work and cut the number of employees to do the work as in other areas like Guam and US etc.

Anonymous said...

Why can't the CWs simply return to their own countries? They are citizens aren't they?

Anonymous said...

In response to all of the CW returning to their own countries.
I personally would like to see that happen.
Not to get them out of here as many want, but to let many actually see what would happen when they all leave.
If that were/is to happen, say over a 90 day, or six month period, after this Nov deadline, the NMI would be devastated.

A perfect example is what happened to CUC after the Legislature passed a law the first time against hiring CW.
The reality, that many won't believe nor want to admit is that there are NOT enough skilled workers to take the slots presently held by the CW.
Another fact is that there is not even enough bodies to fill those jobs even if no skills were required.
Another fact has also been verbally repeated by many is that US Cit. won't work at $5 an hour.
Another fact is that few will work in the hotel or other service industries no matter what the pay scale.
With any raise in pay to a decent livable wage in the private sector, would also result in a cut back in the number of employees like in other areas.
There would be no more 5 employees working for cheap wages doing a job that one person usually does, such as in Guam or other places.
In most cases employees would be required to supply there own hand tools among other things if they indeed wanted a job and also be a productive worker.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 3:06 stated, "Why can't the CWs simply return to their own countries? They are citizens aren't they?"

1. The CNMI is their home now. Most have stayed so long that they have nothing to return to -no house, no family, no job etc. If, for instance, the US sent back 11,000 Filipinos with no means of support with the majority of them being owed money from criminal employers who were never prosecuted, it would create a HUGE international human rights scandal.
2. Many have U.S. citizen children that they cannot bring with them. Some Chinese would be charged a fee for having "too many" children. They do not have the money to pay the fee or cost of schools. Many of the children do not speak the language of their parents' countries.
3. THEY ARE OWED THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FROM CRIMINAL EMPLOYERS and have no money to travel anywhere. They came to earn money and MANY -thousands of them - have cases against their previous employers who stole money from them. THEY WANT THEIR MONEY. If these workers stole from their employers, they would be prosecuted and jailed. The employers stole from them and the CNMI and US governments have done NOTHING!!! REPARATIONS NOW! (I am working on this on an international level now because I am so disgusted that the United States allowed this to happen.)
4. They fill so many positions that most hotels and major businesses would close down if they all left. Do you want this to happen?

Mike said...

I would agree that there are not enough skilled workers for the CNMI. H1B federal visas were created exactly for that purpose. H1B visas require prevailing wages and advertising of jobs. Until there are prevailing wages, we will never know if we really need the foreign worker or not.

CUC pays non-residents who have lived in the CNMI for years up to $9,600 extra with the housing allowance. CUC needs to revise their salary structure for parity between locals and non-residents. We need to provide incentives for locals to attend a proper apprentice program.

Unskilled locals are willing to work for $5/hr. Skilled locals are not willing to work for $5/hr., nor should they. $5/hr. should be an entry level salary, not a lifetime wage.

If workers are given status or are deported, most will leave the CNMI, and workers will still be needed. Temporary 9 month H-visas for jobs that U.S. workers are actually unavailable will need to be recruited from abroad. The temporary visas will stop workers from developing roots and will give U.S. workers a chance at finding employment.