July 18, 2012
The fact is that there is absolutely no need to extend this program. A stable workforce would be ensured if the U.S. Congress would finally take the only right and humane step and grant permanent residency status to every legal, long-term foreign worker who has worked five or more continuous years in the CNMI. Granting permanent residency to the qualifying long-term foreign workers would end the uncertainty and confusion. It would end six more years of fees, the problems and delays with applications, the confusion with visas and travel, and the constant toying with people’s lives, not to mention the expense of running the program.
The CNRA calls for a reduction of the foreign work force to zero by December 2014. I have always interpreted that to mean that by December 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. It is the only solution that reflects our American values.
An extension may sound like an acceptable idea on paper to agency bureaucrats and members of Congress. But the truth is that the majority of the congressional members and their staffers have little knowledge of the dark history of the CNMI guest worker program and no idea that the majority of the foreign workers have lived and worked legally in the CNMI for years and even decades. The majority of the members do not know that a huge number of these legal foreign workers have suffered documented wage theft and have never been made whole. I am devoting my time to education efforts with the hope that with knowledge some members will do the right thing by the CNMI’s foreign workers.
The truth is that the CNMI officials and business leaders desperately need the foreign workers. However, they selfishly want them to stay only as a disenfranchised underclass where they can continue to cheat them, deny them of basic civil, political 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 program will be to extend the shame. In fact, any guest worker program that lacks an eventual pathway to citizenship is deeply flawed and unjust.
The CNMI political and business leaders that support an extension should consider that this system is not only problematic for the legal, long-term foreign workers and businesses, but it does not provide the best solution for the CNMI. The CNMI economy would totally collapse if the majority of the foreign workers were to leave since they make up about 70% of the private work force and the CNMI lacks a skilled labor force to replace them.
The leaders who are calling for an extension of the program should be rallying Congress for a bill providing permanent residency status for all legal, long-term foreign workers if they truly want a lasting and mutually beneficial solution. Unlike an extension, which would provide an ineffective band aid solution, granting permanent residency to all legal, long-term foreign workers would provide the CNMI with an enduring economic, social and political solution.
The provision in the CNRA can be best 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.
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.