November 3, 2011
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 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.