July 17, 2011
They could have been sitting at home content with the thought that they and their families would receive updated status if H.R. 1466 passes, but the leaders of the United Workers Movement-NMI sponsored a meeting in Garapan as an opportunity for nonresident workers to gather together to watch the House hearing. The leaders and group oppose H.R. 1466 because if fails to address the plight of 12,000 legal nonresident workers, focusing only on those that have a U.S. citizen family member. They support amending the bill to include all legal, long-term nonresident workers who have dedicated years and even decades of their lives to work in the CNMI.
The UWM has always stood fast in support for permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for the legal, long-term nonresident workers. They stand united in that view today, willing to sacrifice their own security to fight for the security for ALL of nonresident workers. Their actions say a great deal about their characters and about the bill. If even the nonresident workers who would be positively affected if the bill passes oppose it, then members of Congress and the Administration need to take a hard look at its flaws and properly amend it to reflect the democratic principles upon which our nation was founded.
Thanks to indigenous nativist opposition and weak members of the U.S. Congress, the only mention of status in P.L. 110-229 (the CNRA) is a provision that mandated the Secretary of the Interior to report to the U.S. Congress by May 2010 on the status of the nonresident workers, including “recommendations to the Congress related to granting alien workers lawfully present in the Commonwealth on the date of the enactment of such Act United States citizenship or some other permanent legal status.” The mandated DOI report was issued in April 2010. Among the recommendations was this statement:
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.No where in the report or recommendation did the DOI suggest that status should be upgraded or addressed only for families with a U.S. citizen spouse or child. No where does it suggest restricting travel or denying basic human rights. Since the report was issued the only action that the U.S. Congress has taken concerning the recommendation has been H.R. 1466. It stands as a discriminatory, undemocratic response. It needs to be amended.
"It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was chilling that no one who spoke at the hearing even mentioned the plight of the 12,000 legal, nonresident workers who are excluded from this bill because they have no U.S. citizen family member. They too have families that will be torn apart; they too are faced with adversity. They have been dedicated and loyal contributors to the CNMI also. It must be because the CNMI government and these members of the U.S. Congress regard the nonresident workers primarily as labor units rather than as people. It is extremely upsetting that a member of Congress can argue passionately about keeping families together, but only certain families –those with a U.S. citizen spouse or child. Is that any less discriminatory than the racist remarks made by Governor Fitial and Susana Deleon Guerrero? To leave the other families completely out of the discussion and bill was wrong. To say that there was no known opposition to the bill was wrong.
"Never under any condition should this nation look at an immigrant as primarily a labor unit. He should always be looked at primarily as a future citizen." -Theodore Roosevelt, 1917
The nonresident workers, the de facto citizens, are people, but at the hearing the majority of the discussion focused on them as instruments that are essential to pump up the economy, and as labor units needed for their talent and skills. Where people are concerned, decisions cannot be made based on what is perceived to be good for a place. Yet listen to the debate and you will see that it centered on "what is good for the CNMI." It was stunning.
"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
When I was at the hearing I kept thinking that somewhere on these same grounds similar debates were held 150 years ago ––debates where people were discussed as if they were merely tools and instruments to boost an economy; debates about people being chained to a place with travel restrictions; debates about people being stripped of liberty and freedoms, debates about people being denied basic social, political and economic rights; debates about people needed to serve the privileged class of the two-tiered society. How was this hearing much different than the debates about slavery? How has it happened that our nation has stepped so far back in time? I wonder if those supporters of the bill would like to find themselves in the position that they propose for others with the restricted travel and denial of social and political rights.
"The horror of class stratification, racism, and prejudice is that some people begin to believe that the security of their families and communities depends on the oppression of others, that for some to have good lives there must be others whose lives are truncated and brutal." –Dorothy Allison
Our focus now must be on educating members of Congress as to the flaws of this bill and the untruth that it is intended to "keep families" together. That statement is a lie unless it is completed to say, "The bill will keep certain families together – only those that have a United States citizen family member." The bill's author and co-sponsors must be honest and state that 12,000 equally deserving legal nonresidents with families lacking a U.S. citizen family member are left outside of this legislation to fend for themselves. Our focus will be to hold accountable those members of Congress who are noted advocates for immigration reform, but supported this flawed legislation. How can they advocate for millions of undocumented aliens to be granted a pathway to citizenship and turn their backs on 12,000 legal long-term de facto citizens? How can they support that 4,000 that they do provide for in the legislation be granted an inferior un-American status? Is it hypocrisy or ignorance? We will soon find out!