♥ Foreign Worker News: More on Status

February 19, 2013

Articles in the Saipan press featured New York-based attorney Loida Nicolas Lewis expressing her views concerning status for the CNMI aliens in upcoming immigration bills. Ms. Lewis is a former attorney of U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services and the chairperson of Pinoys for Good Governance.

Ms. Lewis correctly stated that to leave the CNMI aliens out of any comprehensive immigration reform bill would be "unfair." She is correct. I just hope that this influential woman is working to educate members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and the key members who are currently working on legislation.

No one member of Congress will, or should, decide the fate of the CNMI's foreign nonresidents. The 11 million undocumented immigrants in the mainland are not the concern of any one member of the U.S. Congress, but are the concern of every member. Likewise, the 12,000 nonresidents in the CNMI are not the concern of one member of the U.S. Congress, but are the concern of every member. They all reside on U.S. soil.

Ms. Lewis was quoted by The Saipan Tribune as objecting to CNMI-only status:
“Immigration reform is coming; it should be extended to you. Whatever is passed in the U.S. Congress for undocumented aliens and immigrants in the mainland should also be given to you,” Lewis said at the forum, drawing loud cheers from a crowd of over 300 nonresident workers, mostly Filipinos. 
In a later interview, Lewis told reporters that a separate status for nonresident workers in the Commonwealth is not fair because many of these workers have been on the islands for many years and have contributed greatly to the island economy through the years. “That is so unfair for me,” Lewis said, referring to the CNMI-only status. “Why will they [nonresident workers in the CNMI] be separated from the rest of the people in the mainland?
To separate the CNMI's legal, long term foreign nonresidents in any comprehensive immigration legislation would be absolutely unfair and discriminatory, especially if it meant that the undocumented aliens in the U.S. mainland received a pathway to citizenship while the legal, long-term foreign nonresidents and undocumented aliens received CNMI-only status or worse, no status.

Outspoken immigration reform advocates have said that they will not vote for an inferior status that creates a permanent disenfranchised underclass, similar to what H.R. 1466 proposes. H.R. 1466 is only acceptable if it is revised to include all legal, nonresidents, including those who have no U.S. citizen spouse or child and if it includes an eventual pathway to citizenship for all categories.

Of course, Delegate Sablan represents the CNMI, as Ms. Lewis stated. He does not, however, represent the CNMI's nonresidents. They are disenfranchised, even though most have lived and worked legally in the CNMI for over five years, many for decades.

The Marianas Variety quoted Delegate Sablan:
He said immigration is going to be a very difficult issue in Congress. “Those people in Congress really don’t think that you are entitled to anything,” he told nonresidents attending the forum. 
“It’s not a moral fight in Congress — it’s not about what’s morally right. It’s a political issue, and the only reason Republicans are giving their attention to this issue is because they just lost the elections,” he said, referring to the overwhelming majority of Hispanics and other minorities who voted Democratic last November.
This is wrong. If the people in Congress really didn't believe that the CNMI nonresidents were entitled to "anything" then none of them would have co-sponsored H.R. 1466. There are thousands of American citizens who see this as a moral fight. They know to grant anything less than permanent residency status to the legal nonresidents of the CNMI is immoral. There are members of Congress that agree that the legal, long-term foreign workers of the CNMI are entitled to permanent residency status. It is a moral fight, as well as a political fight.

A bill that would have provided a pathway to U.S. citizenship for the CNMI's legal nonresidents already unanimously passed the U.S. Senate once. It absolutely could pass again!

The excuse that if the CNMI Governor does not support permanent residency status for the CNMI nonresidents, then it will not pass is also just that –an excuse. Does anyone seriously believe that a corrupt, impeached governor has any influence on the majority of the members of the U.S. Congress? Elected officials will want to distance themselves from this disgraced leader who has done so much harm to everyone who calls the CNMI home.

I also reject the argument that a member of Congress must only follow his constituents wishes. That sentiment is used too often as an excuse to push a discriminatory and unAmerican agenda or as an excuse for a member to fulfill his own personal agenda. Does Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva bow to the wishes of his state's governor and constituents who support deportation and unconstitutional immigration laws? No!  Did President Lincoln support different laws for the South that supported slavery and different ones for the North that opposed it. No!  Moral law and the common good should dictate legislation rather than politics or the desires of constituents who support undemocratic and un-American ideas.  Those who strive to maintain power over a disenfranchised underclass of second-hand non-citizens do not serve the best interests of their community or the best interests of the United States of America.

Ms. Lewis stated that the CNMI nonresidents should "help themselves." The Saipan Tribune quoted her:
“We are in the best country in the world. You are responsible for your own happiness, so go and help yourselves," Lewis told her audience.
That is not an easy task for those who are disenfranchised. It is not an easy task when the U.S. Congress has a majority of members who view constituents as political pawns to be manipulated to ensure their re-election rather than as people who have needs that must be met in order for the country to advance.

Letters, petitions, testimony, and appeals have gone unheeded, but that does not mean that we should give up. The CNMI nonresidents need help. They need people to speak up for them and insist that they are not excluded from any comprehensive immigration reform legislation or granted a lesser status than undocumented aliens in the U.S. mainland receive. There are some of us who remain committed to helping those who have no voice and ensuring that the CNMI nonresidents receive the justice that they deserve and is so long overdue. I am one who is willing to fight until permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship is achieved.