February 22, 2012
Isn't it obvious that one consistent federal immigration system has to be adopted for all states and territories? In fact, that was one of the main arguments for applying federal immigration laws to the CNMI.
The inhumane bill calls for the registration of all aliens. This is not a labor matter, but a federal immigration matter. The bill calls for fines and jail time for those who do not register.
It also allows employers to deduct up to 25% of a foreign workers' salary to pay medical bills and calls for the publication of foreign workers' names in CNMI newspapers if they do not pay medical bills. How about the deduction of U.S. citizens' wages if they have outstanding bills? How about the publication of U.S. citizen names? What utter discrimination.
As I stated in a December 18, 2011 post, the bill forces the employers of aliens to become collection agencies for the CNMI government. The proposed bill is also discriminatory in that aliens who do not pay bills would have their names published in the media; however, U.S. citizens who do not pay their bills would not have their names published. More ludicrous is the fact that the Commonwealth Health Center does not even pay its foreign nurses on time, yet the CNMI Legislature has the audacity to propose a law to deduct 25% of a foreign worker's pay for CHC bills! Seriously?
The bill would require aliens to have a physical exam in the CNMI; requires a workforce participation goal; unannounced and warrantless inspections by DOL personnel; and stiff sanctions, penalties and fines for employees and employers who violate the provisions. The bill is a repellent to alien workers and to foreign investors. It is basically a revenue-generating bill that preempts federal immigration law.
Below is a December 2011 copy of the bill. Also see these posts: Draft of New CNMI Labor Bill Raises Questions and CNMI Department of Labor Supports Preempting Federal Law.
Another bill, H.R. 17-147, makes it optional for employers to provide health insurance for foreign workers. Let's be honest. Even when CNMI employers were legally responsible for providing health care for their alien workers, few did. They routinely made illegal deductions from the workers' paychecks or failed to pay their employees' bills at the government run health care centers. Wage-stealing employers also forced foreign workers to pay for their annual physicals and permit fees.
The Saipan Tribune quoted Rep. Ralph Demapan as saying foreign workers could now afford to pay for their own medical insurance because the minimum wage was raised from $3.05 an hour to $5.05 an hour. How ridiculous! Not only is the current pathetically low hourly wage not enough to cover health insurance costs, but when the minimum wage was raised many employers took away the foreign workers' benefits including housing, food, transportation to and from work. Additionally, most employers drastically cut hours when minimum wage increases went into effect. Perhaps Rep. Demapan would like to elaborate on how he figures that these people who live far below the federal poverty level could possibly afford health insurance.
Why doesn't the CNMI Legislature pass a law to force all employers to pay their foreign workers their fair wages; to publish the names of every CNMI employer who stole wages from a foreign worker; to take away the business licenses of employers who fail to pay their foreign workers on time? Such blatant racists.
As I said, if these bills pass, the CNMI will likely join the growing list of other anti-immigrant states and territories that are being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for anti-immigrant laws. Let's hope that the U.S. DOJ will be inspired to investigate not just these unjust laws, but the millions of dollars in unpaid wages owed to the foreign workers that both the CNMI and U.S. governments have ignored. Let's hope that they will investigate the numerous employers that fail to pay their workers on time or never, and will prosecute those criminal-thief employers. Let's hope that they will investigate the numerous criminal cases against the foreign workers that remain unsolved or unprosecuted.
Why would the foreign workers want to stay in the CNMI if these bills pass? What incentive is there to remain in the CNMI as a foreign worker with no immediate hope for upgraded status and no prospects for a secure future? The majority of the foreign workers were callously excluded from CNMI Delegate Sablan's discriminatory status bill, H.R. 1466. The CHC is a failed health care system. Crime is skyrocketing and crimes against aliens are typically ignored, unprosecuted or unsolved. Jobs are becoming more scarce and employers continue to cheat foreign workers of salaries and contractual benefits. The CNMI economy is shrinking. Xenophobia, hatred and racism are growing.
Maybe the racist CNMI leaders are just too arrogant and hateful to realize that the foreign workers may decide to cut their losses and start leaving the CNMI to find work in places where they will be respected, appreciated, and are regarded as future citizens rather than as disposable commodities. (Here is one such place.) They may leave the CNMI to return to their homelands to warn their government leaders and fellow countrymen of the unsafe, inhospitable and dangerous place that the CNMI has become. Does the CNMI even deserve the services of the dedicated, skilled and loyal foreign workers? Will the CNMI even be able to replace the foreign workers if many of them do decide to leave?
While legislation in the CNMI aims to target the foreign workers, at the same time there is no legislation to help them gain justice and rights that is currently being considered in Washington, DC. It is disheartening that the Obama Administration and so many prominent members of the Hispanic, Progressive, Asian Pacific American and Black Caucuses have failed the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers. In 2010, instead of following the intent of the CNRA by responding to the congressionally mandated U.S. Department of Interior Report by immediately introducing legislation to support permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for the CNMI's foreign workers, these congressional members appear to have bowed to the old "islands should be a special case" con to the detriment of democracy and justice.
Despite decades of advocacy and pleas for just reform that would include permanent residency for all legal, long-term (five years or more) foreign workers, true reform is just not going to happen any time in the near future. Much of the credit for that should be given to Delegate Sablan who introduced and promoted his unjust, undemocratic bill, H.R. 1466. Credit also should go to the Obama Administration's U.S. Department of the Interior for supporting the un-American bill even though it does not even address the status of all of the legal, long-term foreign workers, is discriminatory and veers from the INA.
H.R. 1466 addresses status for only 1/4 of the total number of foreign workers –those that could now or would eventually be granted green cards because they have a U.S. citizen spouse or child. Could the supporters of H.R. 1466 possibly propose anything less if they tried? Crumbs were all that they offered the legal, long-term foreign workers of the CNMI, while these same officials support a seat at the table for the illegal aliens in the U.S. mainland. Are these U.S. officials that much less despicable than the CNMI officials who propose their xenophobic laws?
Who would have thought that the co-sponsors of H.R. 1466, the so-called human rights and immigrants rights supporters who support a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented aliens, would be the ones to support the continuation of the oppression of the majority of the legal, long-term foreign workers of the CNMI? Who would have thought that those who most vocally oppose state laws that unfairly target immigrants would be the ones to support undemocratic legislation that would keep 1/4 of the legal, long-term foreign workers chained to the CNMI and send the remaining 3/4 packing? Who would have thought that these so-called progressives would be the ones to stick it to the majority of the legal, long-term foreign workers, while at the same time championing the rights of 11 million illegal aliens? Such blatant hypocrisy!
When the so-called progressive and pro-immigrant Democrats (Obama Administration officials and co-sponsors of H.R. 1466) fail to support basic justice and rights for under 15,000 legal, long-term foreign workers, who is left to turn to? Who will support justice for the legal, long-term foreign workers of the CNMI if the pro-immigrant Democrats and a pro-immigration reform administration do not? Who can anyone believe if so-called pro-immigrant reformists have stabbed the CNMI legal foreign workers in their backs while at the same time publicly supporting the undocumented (illegal) aliens?
Nothing will be done any time soon to change the status for the majority of the legal, long-term foreign workers. H.R. 1466 is an inferior bill that addresses too few of the foreign workers. The bill has not even passed the U.S. House. Even if national comprehensive immigration reform were to be introduced, we should expect that Delegate Sablan would continue his fight to ensure that the majority of the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers would be excluded from a pathway to citizenship or any similar US status that exists under the INA. He has repeatedly stated his intention to protect "his people", as he refers to the CNMI's U.S. citizen local population (voters). It is as if the legal foreign workers who have lived in the CNMI for decades and contributed to the islands economically, socially and politically are not true members of the community or equal human beings deserving of a secure future. When indigenous rights or "us versus them" scenarios are used to permanently harm others, to maintain political power, to promote a two--tiered society of the haves and have nots, to keep one segment of a society permanently disenfranchised to ensure that another segment reaps all of the benefits, then justice and democracy cannot exist.
Some foreign workers have said that they are considering whether or not they want to remain in the CNMI where they are viewed as second-class citizens with second class rights. Do they want to risk losing their jobs to less-qualified U.S. citizens, as the CNMI leaders have proposed in multiple local and federal bills? Will they even be renewed after working one year? The foreign workers of the CNMI have very limited basic rights and no security in their present status. It looks like the politicians are determined to extinguish what rights and security remain. May they too experience the same treatment that they propose for others.