Message to the Foreign Workers of the CNMI: Labor Day Reflections

September 4, 2011

Tomorrow across the United States (today in the CNMI) people from all walks of life will celebrate Labor Day. Labor Day was initiated by union activists over 100 years ago to bring attention to unfair labor practices and to promote workers' rights. The first Labor Day was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City as an organized effort of the Central Labor Union.

Over the years Labor Day has come to represent the last day of summer. While some will participate in Labor Day activities, many view the day as an extended weekend, another day off from work, and a time to celebrate by having a picnic, barbecue or going to the beach. Hopefully, some will remember that Labor Day was established to honor and pay tribute to the contributions of all of the workers in the United States.

Tomorrow I will join fellow members of the AFL-CIO in a march for rights in Orlando followed by a picnic for families of union members. But my thoughts will also be with the foreign resident workers of the CNMI who face continued uncertainty as the U.S. Congress has failed to introduce appropriate legislation to address upgrading their status to a status recognized under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

In April 2010, the DOI released a report outlining status recommendations for the legal, long-term foreign resident workers of the CNMI, as mandated by the CNRA, U.S. P.L. 110-229. Yet the only response from Congress has been the introduction of H.R. 1466, an un-American and discriminatory  bill, reminesent of the post-Civil War Black Codes. Instead of supporting a status under the INA, the bill proposes adding a new un-American status, a "CNMI-only status" that would continue disenfranchisement and denial of basic rights for only 4,000 of the estimated 16,000 legal foreign workers – only those with a U.S. citizen spouse or family member. The other 12,000 were totally ignored under this legislation. It is time to stand up to ensure the dignity of the legal, long-term foreign resident workers in the CNMI!

Labor abuses thrive across America, even as some divisive politicians work to destroy the worker protections that unions have worked over a century to establish in our country. Others propose legislation that will further increase the divide between the haves and the have nots. Labor abuses thrive in the CNMI also, as employers continually threaten their foreign employees. Foreign workers have reported that employers have threatened that they will be out of a job if they don't pay their own medical expenses; if they don't pay any current or future permit or visa fees; or if they complain to officials that their wages are delayed, they have not been paid overtime wages, or they have not been paid any wages for months. It is time that we stand up to ensure that legal, long-term foreign resident workers are no longer threatened by their employer-bullies, by ensuring that they are granted permanent residency status!

We have learned to expect no justice from the CNMI government regulatory agencies that are tasked with enforcing laws. The CNMI government is corrupt and appears to exist not to advance the best interests of the residents of the CNMI, but to fill the pockets of elected officials, their family members and close political allies. In urging Congress to continue the disenfranchisement of the foreign workers who make up 80 to 90% of the private sector, these elected politicians, whether in the CNMI or Washington, DC, have made it clear that they just want to continue the status quo and perpetuate the unjust system where workers are kept as a disenfranchised underclass in the lop-sided, two-tiered society. In such a state they are kept under the thumbs of their employers, unable to travel or determine the future of themselves and their families and therefore subject to abuses. We must end this cycle to ensure the fair treatment of every worker. It is time to stand up to the elected officials and ask them to adopt a moral position to ensure that every legal, long-term foreign resident worker is offered a secure future by means of permanent residency status in exchange for their many years of dedicated work, personal sacrifice and investment to advance the political, social and economic interests of the CNMI!

We must question why the federal agencies tasked with protecting the legal rights of the foreign workers in the CNMI have failed over and over to do so. Why do labor abuses continue, even as they are routinely publicized in local papers, on websites, including this one, and also reported in testimony and appealing letters submitted to officials?  How could U.S. regulatory agencies fail to prosecute the hundreds of employers who stole wages from foreign workers to the extent that they got away with stealing over $6.1 million in documented unpaid wages from foreign workers?  It is time to demand that the U.S. Departments of Labor, Justice and Homeland Security defend the legal and constitutional rights of the foreign workers in a timely manner and prosecute those who violate them!

There are other questions that must be answered. Do members of the United States Congress, especially those who call themselves champions of immigration reform, have two immigrations policies –a progressive one for the 11 million undocumented illegal aliens in the U.S. that supports an eventual pathway to citizenship, and another unjust one for the 16,000 documented, legal foreign workers of the Northern Marinas Islands (CNMI) that would keep them disenfranchised, restrict their travel and deny them of basic human, social and political rights (or totally ignore them because they have no U.S. citizen family member)? We must stand up and ask these members of Congress to amend or substitute H.R. 1466 and introduce a bill that reflects the democratic principles upon which our nation was founded!

Workers are the life blood of any economy and society and should be appreciated and respected, not abused and taken advantage of. They should not be regarded simply as disposable tools for corporations and businesses to increase their profits; as only labor units by which governments can grow their economies; or as just laborers to be utilized at the workplace, but to be prohibited from fully participating as first class citizens of  their communities, as is the case in the CNMI.  Every worker's contributions should be recognized and valued.

The CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers should be regarded as future citizens, not as mere servants to the Commonwealth. The act of routinely renewing labor contracts of the foreign workers proves that they are needed and essential community members. People who live and work in a place for years and decades are part of the community and should receive full rights.

Since the 1990's I have made many trips to Washington, DC to advocate for the rights of the foreign workers.  This next trip is especially significant because I will be accompanied by Rabby Syed, President of the United Workers Movement-NMI! We hope to meet with many established contacts and new ones also to bring the message of the foreign workers to Washington, DC. You can email any letters or statements to by September 25th or give them to Rabby. (Read comments by Rabby from the Saipan Tribune and The Marianas Variety.)  Take this opportunity to express your views. On this Labor Day stand up for your rights and a secure future in the country that has become your home, by writing a statement or letter to educate the members of Congress, federal officials and national press on your situation as a legal, long-term foreign resident worker.

Wishing you all a Happy Labor Day!


Anonymous said...

Like nearly all far left wing Liberals, those that supported and successfully lobbied for Federal takeover will share no blame in this fiasco. You were warned a long time ago - be very careful what you wish for, it may happen. There will be no green cards. There will be no instant US Citizenship. There will be deportations of thousands of long term residents. The liberal Fed worshippers out there just couldn't help themselves. If you had simply lobbied for some kind of extra protection and NOT Federal takeover people would have been given a pathway to Citizenship, everyone of the CWs currently residing in the CNMI. Instead, you wanted a massive Fed takeover of CNMI Immigration. You wanted to "free" them. Well, nothing has changed. Nothing. Except now nearly everyone has to leave.

Wendy Doromal said...

Anonymous 5:42 Maybe those who promised me (to my face) that the status would come after P.L. 110-229 were mistaken or maybe they were liars. I would like to think that they were not liars -that they intended for this to happen, but ridiculously polarized and divisive political circumstances prevented it. That is why I worked so hard to convince members to keep the grandfathering provision in thee CNRA, at least to provide temporary protection. I would like to believe they had no idea that the Republicans and Tea Party members would create gridlock and make it their goal to put partisan games above the welfare of the people and our country. It is unfortunate that someone who previously introduced legislation that would have granted a pathway to citizenship for the workers did not do so. I think it would have passed. Congressman Sablan appears to put his career interests ahead of taking a moral stand, and honoring the intent of the CNRA to grant a US status (not some new made-up CNMI-only status) to ALL legal, long-term foreign workers (not some who are or have family members who are potential voters and would gain status anyway because they have a U.S. citizen family member.) It is very disappointing. More disappointing is the fact that the Democrats and supposedly progressive caucus members have betrayed the foreign workers while advocating for undocumented workers! Shameful, disappointing and confusing. As a Democrat it shakes my belief system.

As for lobbying for extra protection -how do you think the CNMI got a federal ombudsman office and a stronger federal presence? Through lobbying efforts of advocates and those who support a stronger federal presence. Obviously, it is not enough of a presence because abuses are thriving. Read all of my testimony dating back to the 1990's -I ask for a stronger U.S. presence and more federal funds to property staff existing agencies.

I am not regretful for advocating for rights and justice and for permanent residency. It is the only just and moral action that should be considered. If we fail, at least I know I have put forth every possible effort that one person could have over the last 3 decades.

Anonymous said...

Forget extra money for an Ombuds office. What does she do anyway? What will the Ombuds do now, help pack suitcases? Enough already. Give us the names of those that told you to your face that things would be okay. Federal taxpayers should be outraged at George "Kilili" Sablan and his friends and family that work in DC with him. What a waste of money. Now Federal taxpayers will have to pay to repatriate thousands of people to their host countries. Why not just give them work visas so they can pay taxes? What a sham.

Anonymous said...

M'am, thank you for the inspiring message. 'Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.' That defines you. Good luck on the mission.

Anonymous said...

Noni 6:38

Just because Mrs. Brown doesn't broadcast her work doesn't mean she isn't helping the OCWS! She is. Ask her what she's doing.

Anonymous said...

Just like promises are made to us for federalization law, Kilili makes promises that his bill is a 'start'. We are not stupid to believe that! It will be the finish. Good luck on the trip to you and Rabby. Those with no US family need help now or never.

Anonymous said...

Happy Labor Day!

Anonymous said...

The federalization of immigration in the CNMI was already a victory for everyone involved. The end of the CNMI immigration's guest worker system alone was worth every effort. the residents sat by as thousands of guest workers were brought in and replaced local resident workers, suppressed wages and created poor working conditions. That has now ended and should be applauded.

No longer can the corrupt DoLI officials take under the table payments for favors or demand other personal services from guest workers. That is another victory that can not be taken away.

No longer can we keep a person on US Soil for 30 years straight on an annual work contract that expires each year and is subject to renewal or that person faces deportation. That was undemocratic and inhuman. Can you imagine working year after year under that condition. That system is dead and gone. That is another victory that can not be taken away.

No longer can scumbag employers withhold pay from their CNMI guest workers, lock them up in barracks, or beat and rape them without repercussions. The old system that allowed them with the local DoLI turning a blind eye to deport those that spoke up is gone. That is a victory.

Henceforth foreign workers to the CNMI will have to be brought in under strict Federal Visa requirements. No more replacing locals, no more never-ending annual contracts that span decades, no more indentured servitude, no more free massages for local officials who force guest workers to oblige them.

We have been victorious in our call for Federal take over.

It is now up to the long term guest workers en mass to join the calls of those residing here to be granted a pathway to citizenship. That will be a huge humanitarian benefit. If it fails, the takeover by the Federal Government didn't fail the lack of local support to do what is right by our friends that have lived among us for so long would have failed.

The Federal takeover was already victorious in the resolving many issues by dissolving the local immigration controls.

Wendy Doromal said...

Anonymous 8:19

I love this comment! Thank you and Happy Labor Day!

Anonymous said...

"It is now up to the long term guest workers en mass to join the calls of those residing here to be granted a pathway to citizenship. That will be a huge humanitarian benefit. If it fails, the takeover by the Federal Government didn't fail the lack of local support to do what is right by our friends that have lived among us for so long would have failed."

The OCWs owe it to themself and people who are helping us to speak out now. Friends of OCWs please help us now. Some of you stopped helping. We need you.

Anonymous said...

While you're there tell the the members of Congress that US taxpayers are done with pouring money into the NMI. ( )

Now Inos and Sablan want the feds to bail out the retirement fund that the NMI gvt. ran into the ground. The people of the NMI should pay taxes to bail themselves out. Time to let the freeloading, beggars bear the costs of irresponsible governance.

It's not your money! said...

Anon 8:19

Well said!

The Saipan Blogger said...

Most of the retirees are under 60. Let them have their Social Security. It will be 10 years before they start getting any benefits, and in the meantime they can get to work and actually earn those benefits, like all working Americans!

Anonymous said...

so Wendy tell us all....there are thousands of Chinese who have entered under the China Russia Parole who have stayed beyond their authorized time. Should they be allowed to remain here or should DHS round them all up and return them to China? How about any GW who is not employed here in the CNMI? your thoughts on if any foreign national who is here and not employed nor self sufficient should they stay here in the CNMI or should they be granted a CW visa....remember the CNRA and its stated goal....prove to me you are not myopic

Wendy Doromal said...

So anonymous. Please reread everything I have written. Do you notice the word LEGAL prefacing long-term foreign resident workers? People who overstay visas are not legal.

Anonymous said...

anon 9:19 what a non-logical question that even an elementary student can answer!