December 30, 2012
For their tremendous contributions, their enduring dignity, their immeasurable dedication, their untiring loyalty in the face of adversity and their extreme patience, the CNMI foreign contract workers are selected as Unheard No More's Persons of the Year.
For decades the CNMI foreign workers have been pawns in the CNMI's economic game. They are regarded as disposable labor units, rather than as valued human beings who deserve liberties and basic human and civil rights.
Some CNMI elected officials and a few outspoken citizens push to keep the foreign workers as a disenfranchised underclass, regardless of the vast contributions and undeniable sacrifices that they have made, and continue to make, to advance the CNMI. Despite their status as second class citizens, the CNMI foreign workers remain the key contributing element to the survival of the CNMI's private sector and are the most skilled and prominent workers in the tourist industry.
Imagine living and working in a community for decades, but not being able to vote in that community. Imagine the community that is your home is overflowing with corruption; has current and former officials with criminal records or outstanding warrants; has law enforcement agencies that ignore, dismiss or are incapable of solving the robberies, assaults, rapes and murders of your fellow countrymen and countrywomen, yet you have no power to cast a ballot for change. Imagine having to watch as officials, who you had no opportunity to elect, make injurious decisions and actions that will negatively, and in some cases permanently, impact you and your family. This is what the legal, long-term foreign workers endure day in and day out in the CNMI.
Many of these foreign workers have lived and worked legally in the CNMI longer than some of the young residents who are registered voters. The legal, longterm foreign workers endure their status with the utmost dignity.
Even after years and decades of residence, the legal, longterm foreign workers remain as outsiders, second-class citizens and replaceable laborers. They have no place at the table and no political, social or economic voice in the CNMI. They are not accepted as equal community members.
Still, in 2012 the foreign workers risked the ire of some of their employers and the criticism of some CNMI officials to join rallies and protests to demand an end to the escalating corruption in the islands. They wrote letters to the editor, exposed lawbreakers, filed lawsuits and spoke up when they could.
In 2012 the foreign workers faced uncertainty and suffering because of inadequacies and flaws of the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program. Delays in processing applications, confusion on interpreting rules and policies, ridiculously restrictive travel provisions and other problems have perpetuated, and in some cases, increased their suffering. Those of us who believed that the federalization of the CNMI immigration system would herald an era of justice for the foreign workers are beyond disappointed so imagine what the foreign workers must feel.
The CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program has turned out to be no more than a pieced together, build-as-you-go Lego project with many missing pieces. The largest missing piece is a status provision. This program fails to recognize that the “guest” workers under this guest worker program are, in fact, not "guests" at all. The majority of the legal, long-term foreign workers of the CNMI have lived and worked legally there for five, ten, twenty or more years. The CNMI is their home. They are de facto residents of the CNMI. Whenever and wherever there are guest worker programs that deny the foreign workers a pathway to future citizenship there are abuses and social, political, and economic divisions.
Despite the failures and frustrations of the federal program, the CNMI legal, longterm foreign workers remain hopeful that justice will prevail and not too far down the road they will be granted a permanent status. Many of the foreign workers have more patriotism, loyalty and love for the United States than some natural born citizens possess. They remind us, myself included, that our nation, despite its flaws, still is the most cherished homeland in the world. They hold the true meaning of the American Dream close to their hearts and epitomize why Americans should embrace their immigrant sisters and brothers.
It is past time that the foreign contract workers of the CNMI are made whole after decades of abuse, discrimination and suffering. They have earned and deserve an unobstructed pathway to citizenship. If President Obama, bipartisan leaders in the U.S. Congress and the Hispanic Caucus are calling for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented aliens in the U.S. then they must also call for an immediate pathway to citizenship for the legal, long-term foreign workers of the CNMI. The legal CNMI foreign workers should not have to wait until Congress finally decides to address comprehensive immigration reform for undocumented aliens to receive their own overdue just status. The patience of the CNMI foreign workers continues to amaze.
Even though the foreign workers are subjected routinely to criticism, discrimination and even hatred from opponents and naysayers, they remain dedicated workers and upstanding and contributing citizens of the CNMI community.
Decades of ill-treatment of the CNMI foreign contract workers has become a black mark on the face of the U.S. democracy. Sons and daughters, grandchildren and ancestors of the foreign workers will look back on the injustices suffered by the CNMI foreign workers with the same shame and remorse as the ancestors of slaves view that dark chapter in our nation's history. With each day that passes without a remedy for these dedicated souls, the injustice deepens the scars and heightens the shame.
Some of us were promised that the federalization bill would be followed by a bill for green card status. This promise was made to me. It is time that the promise is honored. We need to work to ensure that 2013 be the year that the legal, long-term foreign workers are granted green cards with a pathway to citizenship. May 2013 be the year to end the shame and bring justice to all of the CNMI's legal, longterm foreign workers.
"Our attitude toward immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as their talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances." -Robert Kennedy