Written Testimony of Wendy L. Doromal, July 14, 2011 Hearing

July 28, 2011

The July 14, 2011 hearing on U.S. P.L. 110-229 and H.R. 1466 was disappointing. At this hearing (and at all of the House hearings that have been held in Washington, DC since 1999 to address issues related to CNMI immigration and nonresident workers) is that there was a conspicuous absence of any advocate or representative from the nonresident worker community on the witness panel. Even though the nonresidents make up an estimated 80 to 90% of the private sector workforce and a majority of the CNMI's adult population, their voice at the hearing was and will remain silent except for written testimony that has been submitted. This fact diminishes the credibility of this hearing and any other hearing where issues regarding the nonresident workers are discussed and no nonresident workers are invited to testify. This minimizes their importance and vital contributions to the CNMI.

Every time that a congressional committee or subcommittee holds a hearing addressing with the status or concerns of the CNMI's nonresident workers and it fails to invite a nonresident worker or a representative advocate to give oral testimony it suggests that like many CNMI leaders, the committee members also regard these people as second-class citizens.  It suggests that they too regard the nonresident workers as people to be talked about, but not to speak; people who are valued as labor units, but not as equals deserving of basic social, political and economic rights.  

My written testimony argues for the U.S. Congress to immediately fulfill their moral obligation to grant permanent residency status to all of the 16,000 legal, long-term nonresident workers of the CNMI.

Some of the major points I have regarding H.R. 1466:

In May 2008 the Consolidated Natural Resources Act (CNRA) of 2008, U.S. P.L. 110-229, was signed into law, extending the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to the CNMI. The only mention of immigration status in 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 the Department of the Interior (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.
The sole response from Congress to the mandated DOI report has been H.R. 1466, a bill “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 in the CNMI as recommended in the CNRA-mandated DOI Report.

Rather than advancing the principles and ideals of our great nation, H.R. 1466 will take our country backwards to reflect some of the very same unjust provisions that were written in the post-Civil War Black Codes to regulate the freed slaves. These un-American, undemocratic laws restricted travel and employment and denied basic human and civil rights by prohibiting these second-class citizens from voting, serving on juries and holding government offices. These exact provisions of travel restrictions and disenfranchisement are contained in H.R. 1466 to regulate legal long-term nonresident workers. Surely, this kind of shameful status should not even be considered as a way to upgrade the status of dedicated legal long-term nonresident workers in 2011. It has been 150 years since the Black Codes scarred the reputation of the United States. Are members of the U.S. Congress seriously going to revive these un-American laws? Is the Administration of the first elected African-American President of the United States seriously going to support these xenophobic laws? Permanent residency with a direct pathway to citizenship is the only status that should be considered.

SERIOUS FLAWS IN H. R. 1466

H. R. 1466 excludes many more of the legal, long-term nonresident workers than it includes. There are an estimated 16,000 legal, long-term nonresident workers in the CNMI. H. R. 1466 addresses the status of only an estimated 4,000 or a mere one quarter of the total number of legal, long-term nonresident workers in the CNMI. Neither the CNRA nor the mandated DOI Report suggested that the U.S. Congress propose legislation to upgrade the status of only some of the legal long-term nonresident workers. The intent was clearly to upgrade the status of every legal, long-term nonresident worker. The bill includes those legal aliens who had a U.S. citizen spouse or child before May 8, 2008. Such nonresident workers are already eligible to 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 nonresident workers would not qualify for this status or any status under H.R. 1466. This bill throws 12,000 equally dedicated and deserving legal, long-term nonresident workers under the bus.

H.R. 1466 has been promoted as a bill intended to “keep families together”, but applies only to a limited number of select families. Since this bill provides security for 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 nonresident workers who married a U.S. citizen or have given birth in the CNMI! A unmarried 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 of time and gave birth during that time would qualify. This bill is discriminatory, unjust and un-democratic.

H.R. 1466 provides for a CNMI-only status that promotes the two-tiered society created by the abusive CNMI labor and immigration system that the CNRA attempted to end. Instead of granting permanent residency now 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 “CNMI-only” status sets a dangerous precedent for states and territories that 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 grant to the legal, long-term nonresident workers U.S. status with full political and social rights. This bill’s proposed new “CNMI-only” immigration status is no less than a 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 proposed “CNMI-only” status would create an unnecessary new category that continues disenfranchisement. This type of status represents a status closest to the current unjust status that the nonresidents have endured for decades under the corrupt and abusive CNMI labor system. Foreigners invited to our shores to work and to build our economy should be regarded as future citizens rather than as replaceable commodities.

H.R. 1466 attempts to grant “special status” to the legal, long-term nonresidents workers of the CNMI.
About 12,000 legal, long-term nonresident workers were purposely left out of this bill because of the racist and the extreme indigenous rights sentiment of those who want to maintain political, social and economic control over the disenfranchised underclass of the CNMI’s two-tiered society. This bill will perpetuate all that was wrong with the CNMI system that P.L. 110-229 attempted to correct. Slapping the “federal” label on a broken CNMI system will fix nothing. It will only perpetuate the abuses and corruption. The 12,000 legal, long-term nonresident workers who were omitted from this bill for political purposes will have no chance to improve their status unless the U.S. Congress takes action to include them.

H.R. 1466 proposes restricting travel and employment of the upgraded nonresident workers. Not only does H.R. 1466 provide a status that would deny the legal, long-term nonresident workers political and social rights including the right to vote, but it also restricts the travel and employment 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 that mirrors the Black Codes that brought shame and disgrace to our country 150 years ago. 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 go to other U.S. localities where they will earn more and be treated better. This mass departure of mass nonresident workers 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 they 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.

H.R. 1466 attempts to put economic and political needs over human needs. At the July 14 oversight hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, which included discussions on H.R. 1466, the majority of the discussion concerning nonresident workers focused on them as instruments that are essential to pump up the economy, and as labor units needed for their talents and skills. Where people are concerned, decisions cannot be made solely based on what is perceived to be good for a place. The discussions at the hearing centered on "what is good for the CNMI" rather than what is just, what is moral and what is best for those legal, long-term nonresident workers who sacrificed so much to serve the CNMI.

H.R. 1466 is co-sponsored by members of Congress who are immigration advocates. 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?

Read the testimony:

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kilili reasoned out that he did not include long-term alien workers because Fitial does not like it. That is exactly what he said when we shout why during the 4th of July in Saipan... suspicious. Is he appeasing the Gov or he has an ulterior motives?

Anonymous said...

Wendy, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Anonymous said...

This is powerful and every word is true.Thank you ma'm Wendy. Please God, let them listen!

Anonymous said...

If they can't even deal with the debt and default don't expect Congress to deal with this. The orange speaker could care less. Put back the Dems in the House!

Anonymous said...

Your testimony shows bi-partisan support for permanent residency and makes excellent points. Great job!

Anonymous said...

MARAMING MARAMING SALAMAT MAM WENDY. I KAW ANG ILAW SA AMING -KADILIMAN! MA BUHAY!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Wendy for a well explained testimony. Our honorable congressman kalili should consider amending to include DOI recommendation.

Anonymous said...

Mam, I met you in 1985 and you are still helping. My tears are falling when I read this. It gives me hope. I have no words to thank you enough.

Anonymous said...

What do you think our chances are? If we have to go how will we get our money owed us?

Wendy Doromal said...

You're welcome to everyone who expressed thanks. It is and has always been my honor to be able to speak up for such deserving and worthy people.

To anonymous 10:29

I think if members of Congress recognize that justice is long overdue and fulfill their moral obligation to grant permanent residency then of course, we have a chance. We need to continually educate members. The CNMI is far from Washington in distance and in the members' minds. We must remind them over and over and over, which is what I am trying to do. You can do that too!

We also need to remind the members that thousands and thousands of alien workers routinely had and still have wages stolen from them. It seems there that is no federal agency that has ever or will aggressively pursue this. It dumbfounds me. Don't they care that these people return penniless to their homelands and tell officials and others that they were cheated on U.S. soil? Don't they care that the number of victims increases year by year and the number of non-prosecuted criminal employees grows?

A few years ago I went to Washington to lobby for an increase in funds for the Insular Affairs Office to hire additional attorneys for the Ombudsman Office to pursue labor abuse cases. I was informed that the money was allocated, but bureaucratic red tape somehow held it up. The DOI needs to properly fund the ombudsman office and ensure that there is representation for cheated alien workers to recover the stolen money. How could the federal government allow over $6.1 million to be systematically stolen? I would encourage every alien worker who is owed money to write to Delegate Sablan and Congressman Fleming (Chair of the subcommittee) and ask them to help get the money paid back or demand reparations from the federal government that was and is fully aware of the routine wage theft and does nothing.

Contact information:

Congressman John C. Fleming, M.D. email
Washington DC Office
416 Cannon HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515
P: (202) 225-2777
F: (202) 225-803

Delegate Gregorio Sablan
Kilili@mail.house.gov

Washington, DC Office
423 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2646
Toll Free Phone: (877) 446-3465
Fax: (202) 226-4249

Anonymous said...

What's the deal with 'written testimony'? Is written testimony more powerful than non-testimony?

Anonymous said...

I don't always agree with you, Wendy, but no one can say you aren't dedicated and sincere. Good testimony and I hope someone reads it and takes action. Only Kilili can amend the bill and he won't, but some honorable members can introduce a proper bill that grants green cards.

Wendy Doromal said...

Anonymous 11:23

Everyone can submit written testimony to a hearing. The oral testimony is far more powerful because invited witnesses also submit written testimony (when I was a witness at a Senate hearing I had to make 50 copies of the testimony for the hearing.) Those who are invited to give oral testimony submit written testimony and they get to speak before the committee or sub-committee and can clarify points through questions of the members. Unlike the Senate committee, this committee has not invited an alien worker or a person to speak on their behalf at a Washington, DC hearing concerning alien worker issues since 1999 when Nousher Jahedi testified.

Anonymous said...

Smart move to include testimony of David Cohen former Asst. Secretary of IAO. That is compelling. If someone actually reads this, they will get the issue from the workers' perspective for sure.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for supporting all of us when the bill leaves most of us out. Maybe they ran out of ink to protect all of us who work hard and wait so long.

Anonymous said...

11:23 What's non-testimony? Doing nothing? Written testimony, especially compelling and accurate testimony is far better than doing nothing. When history looks back on this it will be recorded that some virtuous Americans tried to promote reform and the right action.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing this for us.Everyone who has a boss who stole pay needs to write to the emails you put here.Maybe if they get 1,000 emails they will do something to help us get our pay.Giving green cards would help for everyone to get on with their lifes.

Anonymous said...

I think that there should somehow be a provision for all of the workers to be able to be paid any wages to coincide with any actions that will be taken. Whether it be status or repatriated.
Especially in the cases of "non-skilled" workers that may be required to return to their homeland.
A NMI status only is also not a good alternative as, as stated, will only be a means to continue the status quo and continue on with abuses.
There also seems to be so many varying numbers from different accounts, of workers that would be left out or affected by "Kilili" bill.

BTW I read where they passed the "Dream Act" recently. I did not read the entire article as I was looking for something else.

Anonymous said...

The California Dream Act was passed by the State of California:http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/26/local/la-me-brown-dream-act-20110726

Not the national Dream Act.

Good testimony Wendy!

Anonymous said...

The committee should have had a alien worker testify by video conference like Hazel Doctor did. How hard is that? The real reason is they want to pretend 12,000 left out don't even exist.

Anonymous said...

I just don't understand why when we march for the Fed to takeover, the US Congress arouse and the CNMI becomes under Fed immediately when I woke up in the morning. But now we keep on knocking them about our status, they are asleep, wake up!!!

Anonymous said...

Noni 9:22 When you guys had the march, the "takeover" was already immanent. The march showed that CW were in support and it "might" have had an affect on a few votes in DC.
The march primarily showed the local community the feeling of the CW.
But you are correct this "status" should have been done long ago.
I suspect that since Fitial sued on a couple of fronts, the Feds are more overly cautious in anything concerning the NMI.
Right now, depending what happens in DC in regards to the US Govt. default on it's debt in a couple of days, it may be a long time before anything else get before Congress. Especially if there is only a "stop gap" legislature enacted to keep the US from defaulting.
Anything that happens will most likely affect the insular areas in the long run which will be included in any US Govt. cutbacks.
I personally do not want to see an NMI only status. The status should be able to allow for all to travel and work in the US freely or nothing. Otherwise the wages will remain low, unemployment high, workers not getting paid, nothing will be gained and everything in the NMI will remain the same.

the teacher said...

I favor an improved status for workers, I always have, and I agree with all of Wendy;s testimony....except...I don't beieve for one minute that all foreign nationals in the CNMI are legal and I can't possibly imagine that the number of real workers is 16k. And a story we know isn't true can't be sold. AndI honestly doubt if it is a third of that # and I truly think application of the regulations (similar to the proposed regs that the Guv got stalled) would determine who has legal employment and who doesn't.

America has TEN percent unempoyment so I would be surprised if anything more than Kilili's bill could pass on any immigration issue and to think optimistic is unrealistic at this time. I hope long time workers can find employement in the NMI or abroad but the decent people of Saipan will be alot better off with many of those 16k gone. If all the scammers in the NMI stay, I will move and Saipan will continue spinning down the toilet.

I supported federalization to clean up the mess, and that never included promising anything to anyone.