Enough with the "Good Starts"– Let's Have a "Good Finish"

July 13, 2011

On the eve of the House hearing, I must take the time to comment on some statements made by U.S. officials regarding H.R. 1466 that were quoted in the Saipan Tribune today.

The Tribune quoted DOI Assistant Secretary of Insular Affairs, Tony Babauta as saying:
“My thoughts on Kilili's bill is that it takes care of smaller group of people than our report made a recommendation for. I think it's a good start. Any opportunity that is there that takes care of people in a manner we have made our recommendations is a good start. I think he was able to get the attention of the committee and the subcommittee to have his bill have a hearing on his legislation. I don't think we will be opposing it,” he said.
A good start? We do not need a good start for de facto citizens of the CNMI. We need a good FINISH!  The nonresident workers started their journey on U.S. soil decades ago serving the CNMI as skilled and  hard working laborers. The legal, long-term nonresident workers have endured decades of hardship and suffering while the U.S. Congress allowed the CNMI to run a corrupt labor and immigration system that oppressed their rights and ran counter to American principles.  Hollow promises of future legislation have been made previously and were not honored. They are no longer believable, and certainly not appreciated. It is extremely disappointing that an Obama Administration official would not oppose a bill that is un-American and un-democratic.

In April 2010 the U.S. Department of the Interior released its mandated report to the U.S. Congress stating, “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." The report further states that
Statuses under the INA that could be considered include (but are not necessarily limited to):
(1) alien workers could be conferred United States citizenship by Act of Congress;
(2) alien workers could be conferred a permanent resident status leading to U.S. citizenship (per the normal provisions of the INA relating to naturalization), with the five-year minimum residence spent anywhere in the United States or its territories; or
(3) alien workers could be conferred a permanent resident status leading to U.S. citizenship, with the five-year minimum residence spent in the CNMI.
The sole response from Congress to the mandated DOI report has been H.R. 1466, “a bill proposed to resolve the status of certain persons legally residing in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) under the immigration laws of the United States.” This bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. This proposed legislation falls critically short of the only acceptable Congressional action, which would be to provide green cards and a pathway to citizenship to all of the long-term, legal nonresident workers as recommended in the CNRA-mandated DOI Report.

Again, a major intent of the CNRA was to bring the CNMI immigration policies into conformity with the policies applicable to the rest of the United States, as stated in an April 2008 Senate Report that accompanied H.R. 3079 :
Elements of the CNMI's immigration policy are also simply inconsistent with Federal policies. Among these is the Federal policy that persons admitted into the U.S. to fill permanent jobs do so as immigrants with the ability to become U.S. citizens and full participants in the political process.
H.R. 1466 clearly conflicts with this intent. Instead, it represents a haphazard attempt to reconcile the status of only certain limited categories of nonresident workers under a newly created “CNMI-only” status that does not fall under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

CNMI-only Status
Instead of granting permanent residency to the legal, long-term nonresident workers, H.R. 1466 proposes the creation of a new “CNMI-only” category to be created under the U.S. immigration system. This sets a dangerous precedent for states and territories who may also choose to pre-empt or tweak federal immigration laws to suit their own purposes. Do we really want to see “Florida-only” status, “Arizona-only” status or other states and territories creating separate status categories to push their self-serving political agendas so that they can maintain a permanently disenfranchised underclass?

The proposed legislation fails to recognize that the legal, long-term nonresident workers must be granted U.S. status with full political and social rights. This bill’s proposed new “CNMI-only” immigration status is no less than an separatist, apartheid-type status that would continue the unsustainable, two-tiered society in which the persistent exploitation of the foreign workers would prosper under federal rule.

The proposal of a “CNMI-only status” would create an unnecessary new category aimed at maintaining perpetual disenfranchisement. The type of status proposed represents a status closest to the current unjust status that the nonresidents have endured for decades under the corrupt and abusive CNMI system. Foreigners invited to our shores to work and to build our economy should be regarded as future citizens rather than as replaceable commodities. I urge this committee to revise this bill to reflect the democratic principles and ideals upon which our nation was founded.

Travel Restrictions
Not only does H.R. 1466 provide a status that would deny the legal, long-term workers political and social rights including the right to vote, but it also restricts the travel of the qualifying nonresidents. They will remain chained to the CNMI. The bill states, in regard to aliens who would be granted CNMI-only permanent resident status:
(ii) Unless otherwise authorized, the alien shall not be permitted to travel to, or reside in, any part of the United States, as defined in section 101(a)(38) of such Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(38)), other than the Commonwealth.
This is an unjust and backward attempt at ensuring a stable workforce in the CNMI. The vast majority of the foreign workers cannot return to their homelands because most left so many years ago that they have no property, job prospects or family to return to. The CNMI has become their home. There is a suggestion that if permanent residency is granted to the nonresident workers, they will leave the CNMI to other U.S. localities where they will earn more and be treated better. That is unlikely since the majority of the foreign workers lack the financial ability to even buy an airplane ticket, never mind relocate a family to look for a new job and start a new life. More likely, given permanent residency status the de facto citizens will remain in the CNMI and with newly acquired political and social rights they will be able to contribute even more than they have over the last few decades.

Qualifying Categories
H.R. 1466 only recognizes four specific groups of aliens as qualifying for upgraded CNMI-only permanent resident 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).
For the legal, long-term nonresident workers this means that only those who would qualify eventually to upgrade their status under current INA categories could obtain an improved status. These groups are only those with spouses that are U.S. citizens and those who are parents of U.S. citizens. Such nonresident workers could either be petitioned by their U.S. citizen spouses at any time, or petitioned by their U.S. citizen children when those children reach the age of 21, as the INA provides. However, thousands of other legal, long-term workers would not qualify for this status or any status under H.R. 1466.

CNMI Delegate Gregorio Sablan, the sponsor of this legislation, has claimed to be submitting the bill “to keep families from being broken apart” under the federalization law. The truth is that since the bill provides security for only families that have a family member who is a U.S. citizen, excluding thousands of other families, this is not a valid argument. It excludes nonresident “families” in which both parents are nonresident workers with no U.S. citizen children and families in which the married nonresident workers are childless. It excludes nonresident workers who are gay. It excludes nonresident workers who live and work in the CNMI and support their families who remain in their homelands. These distant families are hoping that the difficult and lengthy separation from fathers, mothers or spouses will be worth it if the family member is granted permanent residency.

Many of the thousands of excluded legal, nonresident workers have lived and worked for more years in the Commonwealth than the nonresident workers who married a U.S. citizen or have given birth in the CNMI! A single nonresident worker who dedicated 30 years of work in the CNMI would not qualify for status, whereas a nonresident woman who worked in the CNMI for any amount if time and gave birth during that time would qualify. This bill is discriminatory, unjust and un-democratic.

I am dismayed that more than a few of the cosponsors of H.R. 1466 are among the most outspoken supporters of immigration reform. Many of the cosponsors are members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus or the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and they are recognized as champions for our country’s undocumented aliens. How can these members of Congress advocate for undocumented aliens to be provided with a pathway to citizenship, yet sign a bill that would deny the same status for the CNMI’s legal aliens?

Supporters of this inferior bill have claimed that this version is the only one that a divided and partisan Congress could pass because immigration is such a controversial issue. It is difficult to believe that there are members of Congress who cannot distinguish between legal aliens and undocumented or illegal aliens. It is difficult to believe that members of Congress object to a mere 16,000 legal, nonresident workers being granted permanent residency when 1,042,625 foreigners were issued green cards (legal permanent residency) in the United States in 2010 according to DHS.

Congressman Kilili Sablan was quoted today by the Saipan Tribune:
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan said his bill that seeks to grant “CNMI-only resident status” for four specific groups of people in the CNMI is not part of the national immigration debate.

“One thing that is very important to emphasize about H.R. 1466 is that it is not part of the national immigration debate. In fact, H.R. 1466 is not really about immigrants. It does extend permanent resident status that a small group of people were given under CNMI law, so those people can continue to live in the Northern Marianas, as our local law intended,” said Sablan on the eve of House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs' public hearing on his bill.
Immigration law is immigration law. H.R. 1466 proposes law relating to immigration, whether the nonresidents are in the CNMI or in the mainland. A major purpose of the CNRA was to bring the CNMI into alignment with the Immigration and nationality ACt. H.R. 1466 certainly does not meet that purpose!  The major difference between CNMI aliens and those aliens in the mainland that are so controversial, is the fact the the CNMI aliens legally entered the United States! So why propose an inferior status for them?

Congressman Sablan astonishingly stated,  ". . . as our local law intended? Does Congressman Sablan mean the local law that intended to permanently disenfranchise the nonresident workers? Wasn't a major intent of P.L. 11-229 to END the local law? So un-American, so undemocratic!

Supporters of this inferior bill claim that it is a “stop-gap bill” meant to provide immediate relief for legal, long-term nonresidents until “effective” legislation that provides permanent residency status can be introduced. I supported P.L. 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act (CNRA), despite its major flaw of omitting an essential provision that would have provided the legal long-term foreign workers a pathway to citizenship. From 2006 until the legislation passed, I made numerous trips to Washington, DC to submit testimony and to meet with committee members and U.S. Department of the Interior officials to plead for inclusion of a status provision that mirrored U.S. immigration laws. In several meetings I was assured that the legislation would be done in “steps.” I was told that after the CNRA was signed into law, additional legislation that proposed green cards and a pathway to citizenship for the legal, nonresident workers would be introduced. The bill was signed on May 10, 2008, but no meaningful legislation to address the status of the CNMI’s legal long-term foreign workers has ever been introduced after that.

Now what we see is H.R. 1466, a bill that would continue the disenfranchisement and oppression of the foreign workers. Hollow promises that this is only a first “step” do not sit well with human rights advocates and the legal nonresident workers who have heard this meaningless phrase previously from federal officials too many times to tally. We know that if this bill is passed, the chances of meaningful legislation that grants permanent residency with an unobstructed pathway to citizenship will be pushed far into the future or may never come. It is time to introduce a bill that would grant permanent residency or outright U.S. citizenship to these legal nonresidents.

Decisions being made in Washington will directly impact the CNMI nonresidents, the de facto citizens of the CNMI, who make up a majority of the adult population and represent an estimated 85 to 90 percent of all workers in the private sector. Even though the nonresident workers were never promised a pathway to citizenship when they began their employment in the CNMI, they certainly have earned one. Few of them suspected when they left their homelands that they would be asked to renew their contracts year, after year, after year. Their valuable skills were essential to the CNMI economy, and most were invited to stay. Over the years, they sold their property and broke all ties with their homelands.

The nonresidents are deeply rooted in the CNMI, with many having lived there 5, 10, 20 – even 30 or more years. Many of them have families and/or U.S. citizen children. They pay taxes. They perform community service and are members of churches and community organizations. They have children that serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Yet, they remain voiceless, second-class de facto citizens.

The nonresident workers have made it clear that they seek permanent residency status. In March 2010 nearly 7,000 nonresidents and their supporters in the CNMI and across our nation signed a petition that was submitted to Present Barack Obama and federal officials calling for permanent residency with a pathway to citizenship for the legal nonresidents of the CNMI. Hundreds of the nonresidents and their U.S. citizen children have written individual letters detailing their plight and circumstances and requesting permanent residency. I hand-delivered their letters to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee and U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on their behalf. Additionally, in 2007 many nonresident workers and their U.S. citizen children met with me to send a videotaped message to the U.S. Congress explaining their situation and requesting green cards.

The need for and the desirability of granting U.S. permanent residency to the CNMI’s legal, long-term nonresident workers has been acknowledged in the past by Democrats and Republicans in both the U.S. Congress and the executive branch. In a hearing before this subcommittee in May 2009 David Cohen, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs from 2002 to 2008 in the administration of President George W. Bush, eloquently articulated the contributions made by the long-term guest workers of the CNMI, the hardships and uncertainties that they have been facing, and the granting to them of permanent residency status as the best solution. Mr. Cohen stated the following:
. . . we must do right by the long-term guest workers who have become an integral part of CNMI society. A number of guest workers have devoted most of their working lives to the CNMI. Many are raising children in the CNMI, and their children are U.S. citizens. These workers were invited to come to the CNMI because they were needed, they came and have stayed legally, and they have contributed much to the community. The value of their work skills has been confirmed again and again by the repeated renewal of their employment contracts. A worker who loses his job because of the current economic downturn faces the prospect of having to return to the low-wage economy of his original homeland, uprooting his American children from the only home that they have ever known. Such a worker would, under current law, have no right to remain in the CNMI and no right to travel to the rest of the U.S. These workers have already proven their value to a small corner of this country, and America would benefit if this small number of people could share their talents with the rest of the country. They would be a benefit, not a burden, to any community in America. The CNMI, meanwhile, will continue to benefit from the contributions of those who stay on out of commitment to the CNMI, not because the law restricts their options. Congress should make legal guest workers who have lived in the CNMI for at least five years eligible to apply, on a one-time basis, for lawful permanent residence in the U.S.

Robert J. Misulich, author of A Lesser-Known Immigration Crisis: Federal Immigration Law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, argued:
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.
There is a precedent to support granting permanent residency status to the nonresident workers of the CNMI. The Virgin Islands Nonimmigrant Adjustment Act of 1981 (U.S. P.L. 97-271) provides precedent for a permanent status provision. Mr. Misulich states:
With the understanding that long-term H-2 workers became a “permanent part of the social and economic structure of the islands [the U.S. Virgin Islands] and that the federal government has a moral obligation to resolve [their] uncertain status,” Congress granted permanent resident status to nonimmigrant workers residing in the USVI [the U.S. Virgin Islands] since June 1975. . . .
Congress was particularly concerned over the fate of USVI H-2 workers who could face deportation, as they were parents of U.S. citizen children. . . .
The nonimmigrant workers of the USVI, like the CNMI’s current guest worker population, endured many harsh inequities, including pay below the minimum wage, substandard housing, and low social status. Yet they had become de-facto island residents following many years of employment. As the 97th Congress identified a moral obligation to normalize the status of legal aliens in the USVI facing deportation through no fault of their own, so too should the present Congress extend permanent resident status to guest workers in the CNMI who face deportation after November 28, 2011.
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that all people are entitled to economic, social, political, and human rights. A disenfranchised underclass in a broken two- tiered system is not privy to these inalienable rights. It is not acceptable that the greatest country on Earth has allowed people within its borders to be denied these basic rights. A two-tiered system that promotes disenfranchisement of a poorly paid underclass is unacceptable. It has been a scar on the face of our great country, and a black eye to a nation that has been a leader in supporting human rights across the world. It must end. The only way for it to completely end is to grant an unobstructed pathway to U.S. citizenship to the long-term foreign workers. There can be no compromise, no lengthy debate, and no more delay. The U.S. Congress must act swiftly to ensure that all of the people of the Commonwealth are given dignity, basic rights and a chance to work together to build the economy and a brighter and more secure future for every person who calls the CNMI their home.


Anonymous said...

Mrs Doromal,
I want you to know on this eve that my prayers and hopes that your efforts will not fall on deaf or non responsive, uncaring politicans and your due dilgence in defense of those who have no voice own their on (including my own family members), that YOU will prevail for the CNMI people additionally your support of those in CNMI has inspired me to let you know anything I can offer to this struggle don't hesitate to ask... Godspeed an Good luck...Vance

Wendy Doromal said...


Thank you. I will try my best. I am carrying your emails with me so I can try to get help for you and your family. Don't give up hope!

Anonymous said...

i'm one of the 1,000s left out. I am single and have no child. GOD SPEED MOM WENDY! MORE POWER!

Wendy Doromal said...

There are so many who are not covered by this legislation. Here is a part of a message from a nonresident worker who is excluded:

Dear Wendy,

It is unfair to those who do not have U.S. citizen children, I am working here for long years since 1998 up to May 2011, and tax contributor. I am not coming here for making U.S. citizen kids but to work for the future of my children. I don't come to this island illegally but legally until now... I am a widow and I have five kids. I am thinking that, it is a big mistakes to work in this island without U.S. citizen kids, because those people who have kids can avail the opportunity to the United States, I feel very sorry to everyone working here for long years with out U.S. citizen children.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Congressman Sablan just include all the legal guest workers? Then the bill would make sense.

Anonymous said...

Noni 5:58
That would make more sense but it still won't be fair until it is a US status not some fake CNMI status

Anonymous said...

What is CNMI status? are US lawmakers going to make a law diff to already established status that will define a "CNMI status only"? what card are they going to carry? Are there any law that these selected people classified with? Kilili is besotted.

Anonymous said...

Why is this happen? I think there is no difference in CNMI and federal system. Federalization was a chance for change. Its turned out to be more of the same suffering. CNMI status means we're still the same. What happened to federal status? Please help us.