No Need for an Extension

October 1, 2011

"It is time to implement a plan that grants legal status to hardworking and taxpaying immigrant workers already established in this country. Immigrant students should be given legal permanent residence, and full and equal access to fair college tuition rates and financial aid. Immigrant families should have a clear, efficient path to reunifying. Immigrant workers should be documented, allowing them to enjoy the rights and to exercise the responsibilities of US citizens.

We can heighten national security while bringing millions of hard-working immigrants out of the shadows and into full citizenship. But first we have to give up the illusion that enforcement alone can solve our immigration crisis." Hilda Solis January 2006

If the foreign workers don't understand by now that the leaders of the CNMI view them as disposable labor units rather than as future citizens, then they can just read the Saipan Tribune article, Fitial, Kilili want extension of transitional worker program. This article drives that fact home.

We must focus our attention and efforts on members of the U.S. Congress who are humanitarians and true immigration champions to get legislation introduced immediately that will provide for a pathway to citizenship for the 16,000 legal, long-term foreign workers of the CNMI just as these members propose for the 11 million undocumented aliens in the U.S. mainland.

The article quotes the governor and delegate:
Fitial and Sablan said there will still not be enough workers from the U.S. workers pool to fill all the jobs currently held by foreign workers.

Unless the program is extended, transitional workers or those who will be granted a Commonwealth-only worker (CW) status must adjust or change status under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act if they want to remain legally in the CNMI or they will become subject to removal.

However, employers and employees have been saying that if the workers are only eligible for a CW status now, there is slim possibility that they could change their circumstances to become eligible for an INA status or visa like an H1B visa by the end of 2014.

“I did everybody a favor because the intent of Public Law 110-229 is to wipe out every single nonresident worker from the Commonwealth. I did not like that. That's why I submitted my own issues to USCIS, Homeland Security, to make sure that my economy does not get wiped out. I need workers,” Fitial said in an interview after signing four proclamations on Capital Hill yesterday morning.
It seems premature to be discussing an extension of a program that is not even functioning especially considering that the economy may further decline and there actually may not even be a need for an extension. But the statements by CNMI leaders that they will indeed ask Secretary Solis for an extension of the CW program raise several concerns.

If Congressman Sablan truly believes that there will not be enough foreign workers for the jobs in 2014 then he should explain why he introduced legislation that would continue a system that is the closest to the corrupt CNMI system. HR 1466 would maintain the status quo and disenfranchisement for 4,000 and ignore completely the plight of another 12,000 valuable skilled workers who are already in the CNMI.

Fitial said, ". . .the intent of Public Law 110-229 is to wipe out every single nonresident worker from the Commonwealth." I believe that the intent is not to wipe out every single nonresident worker from the Commonwealth. The intent is that the existing legal, long-term foreign resident workers would be granted permanent residency status after the issuance of the DOI Report so that there would be a stable and skilled workforce in place - a workforce made up of skilled residents who were former foreign workers.

Fitial said, "I did everyone a favor...That's why I submitted my own issues to USCIS, Homeland Security, to make sure that my economy does not get wiped out. I need workers.”

A favor? If the governor needs workers for his economy then he should ensure that they are treated well and paid all of the wages that they earn in full and on time. He should advise all of the employers that they should stop asking their foreign employees to pay the CW permit fees if they want to keep their jobs.  The foreign workers are not the serfs of his kingdom. They should not be treated as political pawns. They should not have to endure racist discrimination or be victims of crimes that die without an investigation or prosecution. They deserve a pathway to citizenship just as the Chamorros and Carolinians were handed one by the U.S. government not so many years ago. They deserve every penny of the wages stolen from them by their criminal employers. They deserve respect and they should  to be regarded as future citizens. Ensure their rights governor, and the problem of a stable workforce will be solved.

These CNMI officials may be assuming too much. They assume that a bill that would grant the legal, long-term foreign workers permanent residency won't be introduced and passed. They assume that the disenfranchised workers won't pack up for greener pasture after they have been treated like yesterday's garbage by the CNMICNMI to have their wages stolen and risk being abused.

Governor Fitial and Congressman Sablan both support extending the CNMI transitional guest worker program. Both pledge to request that U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis extend it for five years. In fact, Sablan says that he already has support from one U.S. Senator and has discussed this with the Secretary. From the Tribune:
“We will get the extension. There's a good reason to request for an extension past 2014. The extension should not be more than five years,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

He said he has discussed this with the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of the Interior, as well as gotten the support of a U.S. Senate member.
The officials believe that if the CNMI guest worker program is not extended there will be no workers in the CNMI in 2015.

That calculation is wrong, depending on how you calculate. Here is how Fiital and Sablan look at the problem:

Cap of foreign workers in 2012 = 22,416
Current number of foreign contract workers = 16,000
Number of foreign workers that can be in the CNMI at the end of 2014 = 0
Estimated number of foreign workers needed at the end of 2014 = 11,000  to 16,000
Solution = extend the CNMI guest worker program rather than conforming to the U.S. program.

By their calculation, the officials figure that the program will have to be extended to keep or recruit the foreign workers needed to fill jobs that won't be filled by the "local labor pool."

I suppose if one regards the foreign workers as labor units rather than as human beings a proposal to extend the guest worker program makes sense.

But what if the foreign workers were regarded as future citizens and were granted permanent residency? Then the calculation would look like this:

Cap of foreign workers in 2012 = 22,416
Current number of legal foreign contract workers = 16,000
Number of legal, long-term workers granted permanent residency = 16,000
Number of foreign workers that can be in the CNMI at the end of 2014 = 0
Estimated number of foreign workers needed at the end of 2014 = 100 to 300 H-1B visa holders under the U.S. system.
Solution = grant permanent residency to the legal, long-term foreign workers. Those with jobs that are needed could remain; those without jobs would be free to travel to the mainland to try to recover the losses from wage theft. 

Then Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA) speaking at the introduction of the Human Dignity Act in 2006.
Congressman George Miller(D-CA) is on the left and Congressman John Spratt (D-SC) on the right. ©2006 W.L. Doromal
It would be extremely disappointing if Secretary Hilda Solis, the daughter of immigrant workers, extended a guest worker program that views the foreign workers as disposable commodities rather than as future citizens. Perhaps the foreign workers would like to join me in filing a petition to Secretary Hilda Solis to request that she back permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for the legal, long-term foreign workers rather than to extend a program that is essentially unnecessary and a needless expense to U.S. taxpayers.

Guest worker programs are traditionally created to supplement an existing local labor force. In the case of the CNMI an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the private sector workforce is made up of foreign workers. Those alien or “guest” workers are not supplementing the workforce; they are the labor force! The vast majority of these foreign workers have lived and worked in the CNMI for five or more years –many for 10, 20, 30 or more. In fact, they are not “guest” workers; they are de facto citizens that have been purposely disenfranchised by the CNMI government so that it can maintain the two-tiered society of the privileged and un-privileged, the haves and have-nots.

Whenever and wherever there are guest worker programs that deny the nonresidents a pathway to future citizenship there are abuses and social, political and economic divisions. We must recognize that a federal CNMI-only guest worker program will not effectively stop the abuses, will not solve the CNMI’s economic woes, and will not ensure a stable workforce in the CNMI unless there is a parallel law that grants the legal, long-term nonresidents permanent residency status with a pathway to citizenship.


Anonymous said...

My friend said she is hoping that the cnmi governor and cnmi house representative will read and understand the " Morton Memo " not the SaiTan memo...

Wendy Doromal said...

They better. And the ICE officials in the CNMI better too. We are watching.

Anonymous said...

Fitial and Sablan are really 2 peas in a pod. Both want power, money, and to get reelected. Neither one will make any move that doesn't say,"Vote for me." They could care less about the workers although Kilili pretends to care about ones who will be potential voters. They both suck. Only Tina could represent the CNMI well.

Anonymous said...

"My economy." What a pompous fool.

Anonymous said...

I've met three umbrella permit holders. All three have told me that their employer has asked them to pay the fee for the CW permit.

Wendy Doromal said...


I am not surprised that the employers are still stealing from the employees. They have done this for three decades and got away with it. Business from small employers to large CNMI hotels made their employees pay CNMI labor permit fees, fees for physicals and medical fees that they were required to cover. They nickel and dimed these poor foreign workers without any consequences so they figure they can continue. Someone needs to survey the foreign workers and find out how many are currently employed by crooks who steal wages.

Anonymous said...

They are kind of caught between a rock and a hard place as the employer says if they want to stay and work, they have to pay the USCIS fee themselves. What choice do they have. One has been here 22 years since they are 19. They never even work in the PI. Terrible situation. US might not think this is a high fee. But the fee is as much or more than one whole paycheck. Imagine losing a paycheck when you are living on the edge already.