CNMI Political Moves

June 21, 2012

Fitial and Chamber Want Extension of CNMI-Only Guest Worker Program
In a move to maintain the status quo –keep cheap labor in the form of thousands of foreign workers who are denied of basic rights and kept as a disenfranchised underclass in the CNMI's two-tiered society– CNMI Governor Fitial, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and some CNMI legislators are pushing for an extension of the federal guest worker program. According to the CNRA, an extension must be determined 180 days before the expiration.

The CNRA calls for a reduction of the foreign work force to zero by 2014. I interrupt that to mean that by 2014 the U.S. Congress would have introduced and passed legislation to provide permanent residency status to the legal, long-term foreign workers making a CNMI-only guest worker program virtually unnecessary. This is the only just and democratic solution.

An extension of a program that had a shaky start, was and is uncoordinated, lacks adequate funding and personnel and has little Congressional oversight would be foolhardy. The CNMI Guest Worker Program is problematic and has not provided the smooth and orderly transition called for in the CNRA.

The final rule was published at the last minute legally possible, causing uncertainty and little time for planning for employees and employers.  Now eight months after the deadline for CW applications less than one-third of all the applications submitted have been processed. Soon it will be time for employers and foreign workers to submit new documentation along with new fees. How is a program with expensive processing fees going to advance the CNMI economy? Can businesses afford to pay these fees for 6 more years? How many of the skilled foreign workers will even opt to stay in a place that offers no future status or pathway to citizenship; where they routinely suffer contract violations, late payment of wages or wage theft; and where they are routinely victims of discrimination and unfounded attacks?

It is interesting that the governor wants to extend a program that he has continually attacked. The governor and the delegate blamed the federal system for taking jobs from locals saying that USCIS allowed employers to "inflate qualifications" giving an advantage to the foreign workers. Fitial and Sablan both have rallied for the locals to fill jobs, referring to them as "my people".  Fitial requested that the foreign workers who served the CNMI for decades not receive parole-in-place. The Fitial Administration does not support U.S. citizen children of foreign workers receiving food stamps because it means "his people" have a  reduced amount.

In November 2011 the Saipan Tribune quoted the governor:
Governor Benigno R. Fitial on Friday lashed out at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for its "refusal and failure" to do its job, saying its decision to allow certain nonresidents to stay here for another year "is not right."

"I will not allow illegal aliens to stay another year," Fitial said.

He also said his heart belongs to "my people," in reaction to Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan’s urging him to "open" his " heart." 
"Those who have jobs will continue to send money off-island rather than contributing to a growing economy. And, with non-citizen workers willing to work in highly skilled jobs for $5.05 an hour, the economy of the CNMI will remain weak," he said.

"My duty as governor is to serve the people of the commonwealth. They are being hurt by the refusal and failure of USCIS to perform its duties. I have instructed the attorney general to review USCIS conduct and give me advice on how we might proceed," he added.

The governor said he aims at real economic growth for the CNMI, "not cheap political promises to those who are hurting our local economy and locals who want to get jobs at a living wage."
I could go back through the CNMI papers and find dozens of examples where Fitial and the CNMI leaders have complained about the guest worker program and blamed it for economic woes. I could find dozens of articles where CNMI leaders have unjustly attacked the foreign workers.

The truth is that they may not want the workers, but they desperately need them. The truth is that if they are going to have to have them, they will demand that they remain as a disfranchised underclass where they can continue to cheat them, deny them of basic civil and human rights and keep them under their feet. The true shame is that this is done with the blessing of the United States Government under a federally run program. To extend the progam will be to extend the shame. In fact, any guest worker program that lacks an eventual pathway to citizenship is deeply flawed and unjust.

What the CNMI  political and business leaders need to realize is that it is the system that is not only hurting the legal  long-term foreign workers, but it is hurting the CNMI. The foreign workers have benefited the islands for decades and continue to be essential workers and community members. They are more than replaceable foreign workers; most have lived and worked in the CNMI for years and decades. They are de facto citizens. They must be granted permanent residency status.

The truth is that the CNMI economy would totally collapse if the majority of the foreign workers were to leave. They make up about 70% of the private work force. The provision in the CNRA can be met by granting the legal, long-term foreign workers permanent residency status. With permanent residency status the legal, long-term foreign workers will finally be free. Those who have secure jobs with good employers will be free to stay. Those with no jobs or jobs with greatly reduced hours or employers who steal wages will be free to leave. All will be free from uncertainty, free to work to make up for stolen wages, free to have a secure future. That is the only just and democratic solution.

Fitial Complaints
Speaking before the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures, Governor Fitial complained that the CNMI Delegate cannot vote. Only state representatives can vote in the U.S. Congress and only U.S. citizens living in a state can vote or the U.S. President. It would take a Constitutional Amendment for a territory or non-state locale to vote. Fitial should know this.

The governor should also acknowledge that the population of the CNMI is smaller than a small U.S. city and that the residents of the CNMI do not pay federal income taxes. He may also want to acknowledge how many billions of U.S. dollars have been given to the CNMI.

The Marianas Variety headlines reads: "Fitial still frustrated with feds".  I wonder how many "feds" are frustrated with Fitial?


Anonymous said...

The whole reasoning behind this retaining the CW in the present status IS that Fitial and the other elected families are so scared of losing control.

If there are more local people in the private sector, these elected will not be able to intimidate and control the votes by using the threat of loss of job to the voters and their families.

The Private sector wants to keep things the same with an abundance of cheap labor whith "one price fits all" positions.
They know the locals will not work for the low wages nor do many of the jobs that are out there.
The private sector also can "abuse" CW as they cannot do this with "locals".
The private sector keeps complaining they cannot pay higher wages but by hiring many workers and cutting back on the hours, they are actually adding to their operating costs.
If they hire an effective number of workers to actually do a job that will take them 8 hrs and to actually pay them a higher wage the employer will actually gain.

Maybe what many of these people do not realize is that the private sector wages will also be rising each year by $0.50 until it reaches the US Minimum wage.

I seriously doubt if there will be any type of "real status" for these CW workers.
If this was to happen it would cause the loss of power to these families.
Any status would be attempted to be blocked by Fitial and Kilili along with the opposition from the private sector.

This will eventually happen anyway as the US kids reach age and vote.(if they stay here)
The problem with that picture is that most of these kids are leaving the NMI for college and do not return along with the local kids.They end up petitioning their parent to the US.
Or if not for school they leave when they are old enough to work.

The private sector should just stick with the "H" workers and let the others go out on the due date if ineligible for "H" visa, then see where the NMI goes to.
Let the NMI find out what will happen. Besides that many business will be gone by then also as they will not qualify under the feds.
Most of these people should just leave anyway and go to where they are appreciated and can get Cit. such as in New Zealand, Canada and Aust.

This over abundance of workers based on population ratio to local work force is a problem all over especially in the Middle East and Asia. Now many places are waking up.

Places such as Barain, Saudi etc have millions of CW and are sending them back as their own people are not working and have gotten into the same situation as the locals in the NMI. No skills or won't work at certain jobs.

The incompetence within the voters by electing time and again incompetence because of relationship is a perfect example of the failures in our system.
They all talk now, but wait and see in November, it will be the same and the same people will get in. Especially since nobody new will challenge these misfits in office now.

Let the CNMI go on it's own. Fed funding will be cut even more next year after election no matter who is the President.
These NMI elected haven't a clue of what to do now, wait until next year.
An example; It is so funny that they were already spending anticipated revenue from Saipan air before it was even in operation. Shows a lot about their skills.