CNMI Humanitarian Crisis Growing

November 4, 2011

Photo by Itos Feliciano ©2011
The inhumane treatment of foreigners under the CNMI guest worker program has only increased with the transition to the U.S. CNMI transitional guest worker program.

Legal, long-term foreign workers are being terminated by their employers solely because the employer has decided to hire a U.S. worker to replace them. Normally under U.S. labor laws, this would be considered discrimination based on nationality.  If there is a job opening in a business, a U.S. worker has preference, but can an employer fire an existing foreign employee just to hire a U.S. citizen employee?  Under the newly released final rule for the CNMI transitional guest worker program, the employer is required to apply for CW-1 or other U.S. visa by November 27, 2011. Is deciding not to get a visa for an existing foreign worker a valid reason for termination? This does not seem right.

I just received an email that a foreign worker friend was terminated today because her employer decided to replace her with a U.S. citizen. She was a dedicated and hard-working employee. With only 3 weeks to go before the November 27, 2011 deadline, we can expect to see more established foreign workers being terminated based on their immigration status and nationality and without just cause because the employer decides not to apply for a CW visa for a foreign worker. Expect a continuance of the chaos, uncertainty and fear among foreign workers and their families.

The EEOC website states:
National Origin Discrimination and Work Situations
The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. 
Citizenship Discrimination and Workplace Laws
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate with respect to hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, based upon an individual's citizenship or immigration status. The law prohibits employers from hiring only U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents unless required to do so by law, regulation or government contract. Employers may not refuse to accept lawful documentation that establishes the employment eligibility of an employee, or demand additional documentation beyond what is legally required, when verifying employment eligibility (i.e., completing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Form I-9), based on the employee's national origin or citizenship status. It is the employee's choice which of the acceptable Form I-9 documents to show to verify employment eligibility.

IRCA also prohibits retaliation against individuals for asserting their rights under the Act, or for filing a charge or assisting in an investigation or proceeding under IRCA.

IRCA’s nondiscrimination requirements are enforced by the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), Civil Rights Division. OSC may be reached at:

1-800-255-7688 (voice for employees/applicants),
1-800-237-2515 (TTY for employees/applicants),
Do these rules still apply to the foreign workers in the CNMI?

The humanitarian crisis is growing as the clock ticks towards the November 27th deadline. Thousands of foreign workers remain in limbo, not knowing if their employers will petition them for CW or other U.S. visas. There are already thousands of unemployed and under-employed foreign workers in the CNMI who have stayed there because they are waiting for the back wages that former employers stole from them, or they have no "home" to return to after living and working in the CNMI for most of their adult lives.

What will happen to all of the long-term foreign workers when this law suddenly changes their legal status to illegal status as the clock strikes 12 on November 27th? What humanitarian plan does the U.S. government have to assist and transition all displaced workers and their families?

Even if it passes before the year ends, H.R. 1466 fails to address the humanitarian crisis. In fact, it only adds to it.  It excludes 3/4 of the legal, long-term foreign workers and it offers the 1/4 that it does cover nothing but protection from removal.  Under H.R. 1466, they cannot travel and they remain disenfranchised.  Under the bill, unemployed foreign workers with a U.S. citizen spouse or child are not able to even support their families because the bill chains them to the CNMI where the unemployment rate is 3 to 4 times higher than the U.S. rate. How is that humane?

The United States Government failed to properly execute P.L. 110-229 as intended by allowing the long delay of the final rule for the CNMI transitional guest worker program, and because of the failure of the U.S. Congress to act expediently on the DOI Report recommendation for status for all of the legal, long-term foreign workers.

The U.S. Government is responsible for the humanitarian crisis that is impacting all of the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers. It must deal with it now. It is time to grant the legal, long-term foreign resident workers parole until such time as the gridlocked U.S. Congress acts to provide the legal, long-term foreign workers with permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship.

One would expect that the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus would be on the front lines advocating for permanent residency for the legal, long-term foreign resident workers. Under the mission and purpose statement on their website it lists as a purpose of the caucus:
To establish policies on legislation and issues relating to persons of Asian and/or Pacific Islands ancestry who are citizens or nationals of, residents of, or immigrants to, the United States, its territories and possessions. . .
This congressional caucus is ignoring the plight of tens of thousands of Asian Pacific residents who have worked and lived on U.S. soil for 5, 10, 20, 30 or more years. Yet these same caucus members have advocated for undocumented immigrants by co-sponsoring the DREAM Act and other comprehensive immigration reform bills that would bring the undocumented aliens in the mainland out of the shadows and into status. They have shown concern and taken a stand on injustice by opposing the anti-immigrant Alabama law.  More disturbing is the fact that most (all except for one) of the House members belonging to the Asian Pacific American Caucus have co-sponsored H.R. 1466, a bill that excludes 3/4 of the legal long-term foreign workers and merely provides "protection" top the 1/4 that are included.

The members of the Asian Pacific American Caucus who signed H.R. 1466 are:
Chair Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)
Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam)
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI)
Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA)
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI)
Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-AM. Samoa)
Rep. Al Green (D-TX)
Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA)
Delegate Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan (D-CNMI), the bill's author

Associate members who co-sponsored H.R. 1466 are:
Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA)
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)

(For more information on H.R. 1466 please see these posts: As Focus is on Alabama, Immigration "Champions" Ignore the Plight of CNMI Foreign Workers and H.R. 1466: Stepping back in time to a time that we want to forget and read Wendy Doromal's July 14 testimony)

These congressional members should be leading the fight to defend their Asian brothers and sisters who have become the de facto citizens of the CNMI. Why are they ignoring the plight of the thousands of Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Nepalese, Bangladeshi and others who have served the CNMI for years and decades? Where are they?

Are these caucus members blindly supporting a congressional ally who wants to maintain status quo? Do they too support the disenfranchisement of foreign workers so that the ruling top tier of the CNMI's two-tiered society can maintain political, social and economic power at the expense of denying the legal, long-term foreign workers basic civil and human rights? Are the members silent because of the distance of the CNMI and the fact that these foreign workers are off the radar of the average American citizen and national press? Are these members, like so many congressional members, selective in what they support based on self-serving political agendas?

One of the most esteemed members of the Asian Pacific American Caucus is Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI). I had the honor of meeting him when I testified at a Senate Hearing in May 1995 and again at the Senate Hearing in 1998. This is a man who has championed the cause of the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers and even assisted a teenager who was a victim of human trafficking in the CNMI.

In 1999 Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Bingaman (D-NM) and Harkin (D-IA) co-sponsored Senate Bill 1052 which was introduced by Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK). The bill supported permanent residency for the legal, long-term foreign workers.  It unanimously passed the U.S. Senate in 2000. The Clinton Administration supported the law, and it would have been signed into law if two felons, former CNMI lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), had not blocked it from being heard in House. It is time to again introduce legislation that would provide permanent residency for a mere 16,000 legal, long-term foreign workers. If this can be proposed for 11 million undocumented aliens, why not for a mere16,000 legal aliens?

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus should take the lead in advocating for the rights of the legal, foreign workers of the CNMI, just as they advocate for the undocumented aliens in the U.S. mainland.  The reputation of the United States is on shaky ground as far as the treatment of the CNMI's foreign workers. The struggle of the legal, long-term foreign workers is being recorded in the pages of our nations history. The action or inaction of these caucus members will be defined in those pages. We are at the 11th hour of a humanitarian crisis that will worsen when the clock strikes 12. The time to act is now.


Anonymous said...

Same comment I wrote in the last article: 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...

9:05 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.

Anonymous said...

Of course it is not violating the law. The employer, before filing an application for a CW visa must provide an attestation that there is no US citizen available for the job. If he finds there is one he can fire the GW, an employer can hire and fire at will as in most current GW jobs there are not contracts and if there is most have a clause that employer can fire at will. The employer is saving themselves money by not filing for a CW and is doing what the CRNA wanted in its ultimate goal, replacing foreign workers with the local US citizen workforce. Many employers realize they don't need 5 GW working 20 hrs a week and can get by with 2 workers working 40 hours. Most of the business owmers I have talked to tell me they are cutting their workforce in half. I would be suprised if we find that there are no more than 6000-7000 legitimate CW visa applications made.......that number will show how many foreign workers are really needed... the rest.....well we all know what will happen with them......

Anonymous said...

Noni 7:02 You are incorrect. The foreign worker was can file an EEOC complaint.

Green Cards for All! said...

To have a valid EEOC complaint the charging party must have legal authorization to work.

But absent the employer filing a CW permit, the CW does not have such authorization!

I would be extremely surprised to see the EEOC taking such a case, which would essentially be challenging an act of Congress.

It would be even more amazing to see a federal court uphold such a challenge.

That is why our hard-working foreign laborers so desperately want green cards, to put them on an equal legal and competitive footing with local workers.

And that is exactly why Fitial and indigenous rights activists are so opposed to this.

Anonymous said...

So essentially the feds set up a system where legal aliens can get terminated without cause so that a US citizen can get a job? And they have provided no status for the aliens within the program so the aliens are screwed. The legal aliens are expected to keep working until they get fired when the boss finds a US citizen? Do you think that their home countries governments will be okay with this? Do you think that these governments will let other citizens go to work in the NMI?

Anonymous said...

The worker did have legal authorization to work under a valid umbrella permit. She was fired so another person could get hired. Not legal. File the EEOC complaint.

Anonymous said...

it will happen and continue to happen, she had legal status until November 27th. The employer made a decision to not continue to employer her as he was able to find a US citizen to take her position. He wouldn't have been able to file the CW and truthfully state that there was no US citizen available for the position, when in fact there obvioulsy was one. USCIS has said filing an EEOC complaint won't stop deportation proceedings and they won't get a status to file or stay even if they take they case. WHat is EEOC going to do force the employer to hire a foreign national who would only have a status after being hired and that requires extra cost or hire a US citizen???? EEOC ain't going to take these cases on..... and so you know just filing a complaint with them isn't the same as them accepting a case for investigation. their resources are limited and maybe the situation is unfair but not a blatant violation with settled case law like many other EEOC complaints they will take first...just the facts of Federalization.....