As Focus is on Alabama, Immigration "Champions" Ignore the Plight of CNMI Foreign Workers

November 3, 2011

As thousands of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island's (CNMI's) legal, long-term foreign workers face loss of legal immigration status in less than three weeks, a handful of  congressional Democrat’s who consider themselves "immigration champions" are taking a trip to Alabama to protest the state's new anti-immigrant law.

These pro-immigrant lawmakers are calling Alabama's law a "civil rights emergency."  Indeed, it is.

There is an equally, if not more critical "civil rights emergency" or humanitarian crisis in the CNMI affecting the legal, long-term foreign workers and their families.

Ironically, these same Democratic lawmakers who protest the Alabama law, co-sponsored H.R. 1466, a bill to resolve the status of certain persons legally residing in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands under the immigration laws of the United States. This bill that contains provisions that mirror the post-Civil War Black Codes. These same lawmakers who protest the Alabama law and support a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented aliens, co-sponsored H.R. 1466, a bill that would restrict travel and continue disenfranchisement for only 4,000 of the 16,000 legal, long-term foreign workers of the CNMI. The 4,000 are those foreign workers who have a U.S. citizen immediate relative.  All of the other legal, long-term foreign resident workers, an estimated 12,000, were callously excluded from the bill. Among those excluded are many who have lived and worked in the CNMI longer than those among the 4,000 who are included in the bill.

Leading the charge to protest the Alabama law is Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). He reportedly held a planning meeting for the Alabama trip with other Democratic members who support immigrant rights. The other co-sponsors of H.R. 1466 who attended the planning meeting for the Alabama protest are Democrats Rep. Judy Chu (California), the Chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus;  Rep. Al Green (Texas), Rep. Yvette Clarke (New York), Rep. Grace Napolitano (California), Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Texas) and Rep. Joe Baca (California). Reps. Chu, Greene, and Clarke are members of the Asian Pacific American Caucus, while Reps. Gutierrez, Napolitano, Reyes and Baca are members of the Hispanic Caucus. Both caucuses advocate for immigration reform and immigrants' rights.

The Birmingham News reports:
Gutierrez has become the leading congressional critic of Alabama's immigration law as a recipe for ra­cial profiling and a throwback to Al­abama's history of discrimination against minorities. In an interview on Capitol Hill Wednesday, he said he wanted the hearing to illustrate how the law is affecting families, farmers, businesses and the overall economy. 
. . .Gutierrez, a leading advocate for an immigration overhaul at the federal level that includes border security and a path to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants, acknowledges that Alabama's get-tough law was a reaction to Congress' inability to fix the immigration system. 
"Absolutely the Congress of the United States needs to do something, but you don't need to inflict this kind of pain," Gutierrez said.
I commend Rep. Gutierrez and the other House Democrats for standing up to the unjust Alabama law. It is indeed a throwback to the state's racist and shameful history. Still I question their sincerity in supporting the rights of all of the foreign workers and immigrants on U.S.soil. Why if they protest the Alabama law are they also co-sponsoring H.R. 1466, an unjust bill? Why aren't they vocally protesting the fate of the CNMI's legal long-term foreign workers and rallying to protect their status as time runs out? Why do they support and co-sponsor just and progressive legislation for the 11 million undocumented aliens (comprehensive immigration reform and DREAM Act bills) that includes permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship, while at the same time they support and co-sponsor undemocratic and un-American regressive legislation (H.R. 1466) for the legal, long-term foreign workers of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands (CNMI)?

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.

Under H.R. 1466 only 1/4 of the estimated 16,000 legal foreign workers would receive a new status called CNMI-only status, not the permanent residency status that has been proposed for the millions of undocumented aliens living in the U.S. mainland. If H.R. 1466 passes the 4,000 foreign workers included in the bill will have "protection", but they will remain as a disenfranchised underclass, as labor units chained to the CNMI. 

The Black Codes were rooted in pre-Civil War slave laws, just like H.R. 1466 is rooted in the old CNMI labor and immigration system, which aimed to keep nonresident workers denied of political, social and economic rights. Under the Slave Codes, Black Codes, CNMI P.L. 17-1, the CNMI Labor Act of 2011, H.B. 56 (the Alabama law), and H.R.1466 people are viewed as labor units, instruments or tools to fuel the economy, rather than as human beings deserving of human and civil rights.

The long-term foreign workers of the CNMI have been considered as labor units for decades.  Most of them have been victims of wage theft. A staggering $6.1million in uncollected judgements was documented in 2008 and the amount has increased since then. They still are waiting for their unpaid wages, even as they face removal or deportation.

Congressman Gutierrez was quoted as saying, "Absolutely the Congress of the United States needs to do something, but you don't need to inflict this kind of pain."

What about the pain of the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers? Why isn't the plight of the legal, long-term foreign workers being addressed by the "immigration champions"?

In May 2009 at a Congressional Immigration Roundtable I handed congressional leaders from the Hispanic, Asian Pacific American, and Progressive Caucuses a petition signed by 7,000 plus foreign workers and their supporters, as well as hundreds of letters written by legal, long-term foreign workers, their children and supporters pleading for legislation that would grant them permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship.  If they read even a few of the heartfelt letters, even one of the dozens of pleading letters from the children, then they would be in the CNMI right now as well as in Alabama. They are not unaware of the humanitarian crisis that exists in the CNMI. I have made visits to their offices, hand-delivered letters to staffers and sent letters to every co-sponsor of H.R. 1466 by certified mail. Perhaps they are aware, but they are "immigration champions" only where and when it is politically beneficial.


Anonymous said...

Ma'am I think it is better if we start campaigning a stand alone bill for CNMI guest workers rather than pushing it to be included in HR 1466 so that we would know if it can pass.

Wendy Doromal said...

That has been my focus since June 2011.

Anonymous said...

These are not real immigration champions. They are politicians, Wendy. All politicians care about one thing, and that's their reelection. Why do you think they will make a big public campaign against the Alabama law? Because they want Hispanic votes. As you pointed out, just by signing on to HR1466 they show they don't really support aliens' rights. You can't take one stand in one state and another opposite stand on the same issue in another territory and be taken seriously Your party is going to lose the next election because these people are frauds.

Wendy Doromal said...

9:03 I have the same comment as I wrote to you in the above post: I would like to believe that most of these people are really immigration reformists and advocate for the downtrodden. I would like to believe that they do support the Asian Pacific residents on U.S. soil (not just those with U.S. citizen spouses and children). I suggest that foreign workers email and contact these members and ask them to address their plight by introducing legislation that would grant permanent residency to all legal, long-term workers of the CNMI or amend H.R. 1466 to include all legal, long-term foreign residents and to provide permanent residency status. I can write a petition or provide their email addresses if there is interest.

I agree that they are totally two-faced on this issue and need to respond to letters questioning their double standard and conflicting positions.

Anonymous said...

we are a day late and a dollar short. Nov 27th will be here in a few weeks. We spent too much time waiting for others to take the lead. After Nov 27th it will be a moot point for those out of status. Immigration won't sit by and watch thousands go out of status....then what go back and hope to come back or stay and lose that small window of opportunity....

Wendy Doromal said...

7:05 Some did not "wait"; some have been working for years continually writing reports, testimony, letters, going to Washington DC to meet officials, writing petitions, etc.

After November 27th the humanitarian crisis will grow. It will NOT be a moot point. The U.S. will have to respond because advocates and the foreign workers' governments will protest if do not. There are still thousands of foreign workers who are owed back wages who will stay to collect; there are still many who will stay and take their chances in immigration court because they have no way to leave and no "home" other than the CNMI; others will claim equities and the judges will allow them to remain; there are those who will apply for jobs in other places; others who have applied for green cards will have them processed, etc. The immigration officials will do what they are told to do, which is to follow the Morton memo and other U.S. policies. The CNMI governor can give ICE all of the lists that he wants to, but U.S. policies must be followed in the CNMI. If there are different policies applied in the CNMI than there are in the U.S. as far a noncriminal aliens, then there will be a federal court case filed. Watch.

Anonymous said...

Those on the governor's list will fall into the "notorious immigration law violators" priority of the Morton memo. Especially those who were illegal even under CNMI immigration control, but got a "lucky" reprieve due to lack of CNMI funding before 28 Nov 09.

You'll see.

Oh, and any such case will be thrown out because by law, the only recourse to an adverse removal action by the Saipan Immigration Court is through the Board of Immigration Appeals and then the Ninth Circuit.

Congress has withdrawn district court jurisdiction over most such immigration cases, whether styled as civil rights matters, class actions or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

as of Nov 27th anyone who willfully avoids immigration controls is a priority read the memo. once the foreign ciminals are put into deportation proceedings watch ICE go after the other lower priorities well within the memo. The court will use the same standards used in the US. kids alone won't be sufficient for a imigration judge to allow some one to stay. that argument has been argued and decided for decades in the states and it doesn't win.....overstay at their own risk but doing so they will never be able to get a job here. no employer will be able to hire them because to get a CW visa you must be in legal status overstaying when you umbrella permit expires means you have no status and are unhireable under the law.....DHS will work with consulates to help their citizens return home... either when the people request it or when they are caught..hiding here without status will only cause bigger problems for the former GW than they understand or care to accept.

Wendy Doromal said...

11:38 Actually, it is up to each foreign worker and their family to decide whether they stay or go after Nov 27 if they find themselves out of status. After committing two or three decades to a place and then being kicked out, I would not imagine many foreign workers plan to return or to go elsewhere in the U.S. to be treated like dirt again. Therefore, they may not care if they are deported.

Anonymous said...

help me understand, no job, no ability to get one if they overstay, why and how are they going to remain here??? sponge of their minor childrens food stamps? steal? beg? what are tehy going to and why would US citizens here symapthize with them at that point? Many people worked tirelessly on their behalf but it did not go the way many wanted. The feds did their part if congress or friens of thee GW didn't do theirs it is not the feds fault nor the employers here nor the residents of the CNMI. it is the way it is and once the GW become out of status it is on them no one will feel sorry for people who stay here and take advantage of their minor kids...these people are listing to the ombudsman and others who don't know what they are talking about when it comes to us immigration they shgould know better than telling people things they don't know about...whatever happened to the federal lawsuit against the ombudsman for shredding fed documents?

Wendy Doromal said...

12:16 Once again... Many employees were victims of wage theft and do not have the money to pay for airfare; many have no place to go because they lived in the CNMI for 2 or 3 decades and the CNMI is their only "home", others do not want to take their children out of school; others have children with special needs or sick family members requiring treatment, etc.

You obviously have a grudge with the ombudsman. She has never given bad advice to the workers. The others? Who are these others that you have a problem with? Perhaps the attorneys that the governor called "jerks"? I believe that lawsuit was thrown out - do a search here and read about it.

Anonymous said...

the whole problem with the island is everyone has their axe to grind or held some other position that colors how they do their current job. The feds coming in CBP, ICE USCIS and new fed attorneys are free of these biases and skeletons in the closets related to their past jobs on the island. These folks will make determinations based upon law and procedures. Might be different that what people here have been subject to in the past but it will be done fairly and that is all one can expect or hope for. It will take a while for people to learn how the feds operate but in the end it is best for the CNMI even if not for individuals in every case. This has been a long time coming....

Wendy Doromal said...

4:42 Good point.