July 6, 2011
It is very exciting that the daughter of nonresident workers, Hazel Marie B. Doctor will be testifying before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs during the hearing on July 14th. Over the last few years, hundreds of letters from children of nonresident workers have been submitted to members and committees of the U.S. Congress, but never before has the child of nonresident workers been asked to present oral testimony.
Hazel is an eloquent speaker and has presented her views previously before an assembly of nonresidents and supporters who met in the CNMI with Rep. Nick Rahall II (D-West Virginia), Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Rep. Donna M. Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), and the CNMI Congressman Rep. Gregorio “Kilili” C. Sablan (D-MP).
Here is the speech that Hazel Doctor made in August 2009 before the visiting CODEL (emphasis added):
STATEMENT OF HAZEL MARIE DOCTOR
BEFORE THE U.S. CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION
IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS
AUGUST 9, 2009
Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and members of the delegation. My name is Hazel Marie Bernardo Doctor. I am seventeen years old and about to enter my senior year of high school. Thank you for your distinguished leadership in Congress and for your untiring support of the Americans in the territories. We appreciate your visit to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the opportunity to speak with you. By being here, you have given us the chance to personally share with you our hope that you will do the right thing – that you will prevent the break-up of families in the CNMI by passing legislation to grant permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for long-term guest workers and others who have called the CNMI home for many years.
Let me tell you a little bit about me and also about my family. I was born on Saipan on January 21, 1992 and have lived on this island my whole life. I have a younger sister, Jackie, who is nine years old and was born on Saipan as well. As persons born in the CNMI, my sister and I are citizens of the United States. Like you, we are Americans. And this beautiful island of Saipan is our home.
But my story really begins with my wonderful parents. My father, Alejo, and my mother, Justina, are two of the most hard-working people I know. They have lived in the CNMI for more than twenty years after leaving the Philippines in search of a better life. They too call Saipan their home. But unlike my sister and me, our parents are not U.S. citizens. They are not even permanent residents. Instead, after all these years they are still considered "temporary" workers. They remain nationals of the Philippines after more than twenty-one years because CNMI immigration and labor laws did not afford them the opportunity to become full members of this U.S. democratic society.
My parents, along with thousands of other guest workers, contributed enormously to the economic development of the commonwealth. Over time my parents, like so many other people, built their lives here. They put down roots and established homes. Their raised their children. They volunteered in the community and formed lifelong friendships. In short, they became part of the fabric of CNMI society.
Like many families throughout the CNMI, our family is anxious about the future. Public Law 110-229 takes effect in November this year, and at this point it is unclear what will become of us. The law establishes a goal of phasing out the CNMI guest worker program and requires a report from the Department of Interior as to the numbers of guest workers in the CNMI, and recommendations for status, if any. There is no assurance that there will be recommendations for status, nor any assurance that status would be granted through subsequent legislation even if such recommendations are made.
Lacking any permanent status, if my parents, and thousands of other parents like them, are unable to secure permits to continue to work here under the federal transitional guest worker program or under any existing federal visa program, they will most likely have to leave. Our family would be faced with some difficult decisions, not least of which is whether my sister and I should go with our parents to the Philippines to keep the family together, or stay behind in the CNMI, the only home we have ever known. But why should we have to choose between our parents and our home?
My sister and I, like thousands of other children of long-term guest workers here, are U.S. citizens. We read, write and speak primarily in English. We want to remain in the CNMI because this is our home and we do not want to be removed from the only home that we know and love. We want our family -- and all families who call the CNMI home -- to be able to stay together. We ask you to protect our families. We ask you to support legislation that will allow our families to remain in the CNMI. As citizens of the United States, we believe that the separation of our families would be a grave injustice and a critical democratic error.
For many years a peculiar, unfortunate, and unjust system has persisted in the CNMI, one that barred guest workers from political representation no matter how long they lived here. It is a system that was created by the CNMI's immigration and labor laws, and it will eventually come to an end under Public Law 110-229. But great and urgent uncertainties facing my family and thousands of others have yet to be addressed. Relief -- in the form of permanent status and pathway to citizenship -- can only be provided by Congress.
And there is precedent for such relief. In the 1980s, the Virgin Islands and Congress realized that special legislation was needed to prevent the separation of guest workers from their U.S. citizen families. And so Congress passed a law that allowed guest workers in the Virgin Islands to adjust to permanent residency status. Congress should pass a similar law tailored to the unique needs of the CNMI.
This is our home. Our families belong here. We implore you to do right by our families and pass legislation to grant our parents permanent residency status and a pathway to citizenship.
Again, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak before you