Washington Notes

June 11, 2012

Some have asked for the talking points that I will present to the officials and others that I am meeting with in Washington, DC. An overview:

–An oversight hearing is needed to determine the progress on the transition from the CNMI immigration system to a federal system and foreign worker issues and to correct problems. The CNRA called for an “orderly phasing out of the nonresident contract worker program of the Commonwealth and the orderly phasing in of Federal responsibilities over immigration.” However, the program’s implementation and the transition from the CNMI immigration system to the federal system has been slow, uncoordinated and haphazard. There has been little congressional oversight and serious gaps in the coordination between federal departments.

–CNMI foreign contract workers are experiencing instability, fear, uncertainty, distrust and disappointment. The final rule was released in September 2011, months before the transition period ended. The deadline for employers to submit applications for their foreign employees’ CW permits was November 2011. Now eight months after the application deadline only a small percentage of the total permits have even been processed. As of April 17th, the last time USCIS reported on then progress, only 20% of the 5,659 petitions with 11,695 beneficiaries in the system had been approved. The CW petitions represent 1,782 different employers in the CNMI.  The lengthy processing time has not only adversely impacted employers and foreign employees, but it has reportedly contributed to the CNMI’s economic decline. 

–Advocates, such as myself, were assured that the foreign workers would be made whole with the passage of the CNRA and a new federal guest worker program that was to end the abuses, wage theft, the suffering and injustice. With the promise of congressional action, we spent weeks collecting cheated workers' Administrative Orders documenting stolen wages that were issued by the  CNMI Department of Labor. The orders collected totaled over $6.1 million. Since thousands of foreign workers left the islands without ever receiving the stolen wages and their losses were not included, the $6.1 million represents only a fraction of the money stolen from foreigners on U.S. soil since the CNMI guest worker program began. No action was ever taken by the U.S. Congress to ensure reimbursement of the money or to make the workers whole by virtue of upgraded permanent residency status, which would give them a chance to stay in the U.S. and make up their losses. The United States Congress appears to have forgotten or pushed aside any concerns or plans for action to address the past suffering, prior abuses, and stolen wages that have adversely impacted the foreign workers during the years or decades of legal residency in the CNMI.

Worse is the fact that these problems continue under the federal program. In written testimony that I submitted in 2009, I wrote:
"Currently, regulations for a transitional federal guest worker program are being drafted. It will not be enough to merely change the name of the guest worker program from the CNMI guest worker program to the federal guest worker program. The program must be totally revamped to ensure that unjust policies and regulations that have plagued the current local system are eliminated within the new federal program. The existing system is based on an economic model that steals labor. It is the closest system to slavery allowed to flourish under the American flag since 1864 and it is un-American." 
Where is the reform, the avenues for the cheated to receive justice and the relief of suffering? It is a huge disappointment that since the federal program was implemented, little has changed in the way of workers' dignity, justice, and basic rights. In fact, the suffering and hardships not just continue, but for many they have increased.

–Members of Congress who supported federalization of the CNMI’s immigration system argued that our country should have one consistent immigration policy. However, under the federal CNMI-only Guest Worker Program, the aliens in CNMI are at a disadvantage when compared to aliens in the U.S. mainland. While aliens in the U.S. are free to travel, the aliens in the CNMI have their travel restricted. Aliens and attorneys in the CNMI argue that the policies that have established guidelines for removal are not being followed in the CNMI.

–I strongly opposed the passage of a federalization bill that did not include status for the legal, long-term foreign workers and their family members. In fact, I attended the 2007 Markup Hearing and submitted written testimony to voice my opposition to the removal of the grandfathering clause that would have at least provided an inferior status that later be upgraded to a decent existing status. Even though no status provision was included, I continued my support of the bill because I was assured by a member of Congress, staffers and other U.S. officials that an existing U.S. status would follow the passage of the CNRA.

Years after the CNRA has passed, it is unacceptable that no bill that would grant an existing U.S. status to every legal, long-term foreign worker has been introduced. The only bill to be introduced has been H.R. 1466, a flawed and discriminatory bill that mocks the democratic principles of our country. It would provide status for an insignificant number of the total legal, long-term foreign workers who have served the CNMI for years and decades. In fact, the sponsor has now is proposing to omit the category of foreign workers entirely from that bill. I am appealing to members to introduce a proper status bill. (I have written a draft bill.)

If millions of illegal aliens are being considered for upgraded status, how can Congress fail to upgrade the status of less than 20,000 CNMI legal aliens?

–Other points will be presented in the workers' own words through emails and a petition that they have sent to me.


Anonymous said...

Ms. Wendy,

I think 20,000 CW is overstated now. I have no data to support it but with the closure of many businesses here, nurses, doctors who left and had tendered resignations, schools that are closing, obviously that number has declined. My friends, neighbors and relatives are gone for good. Really feel the heaviness for our children who were left behind by their classmates and close friends.

Anonymous said...

My prayers are with you Mam Wendy!

Anonymous said...

My prayers are with you Mam Wendy!