February 3, 2013
If immigration reform is not pushed through then, of course, an extension would make sense.
There are several problems with pushing for an extension now. There are major transitions underway in U.S. Departments that will play a role in this decision. U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is leaving and we do not know who her replacement will be or if he/she will even know about the CNMI's foreign worker history and struggle. Additionally, the U.S. Secretaries of Interior and State have resigned and their replacements will also have to be briefed.
The current CW guest worker program has many flaws. An extension of a flawed program is certainly not ideal for the foreign workers or their employers. Would a 5-year extension mean an extension of the existing flawed program, or would proposals for an extension call for needed improvements within the program?
Would an extension of the CW Program mean that less consideration would be given to the plight of the legal, longterm foreign workers in any immigration reform legislation? Would the urgency of upgrading and securing their status be lost once again?
What makes more sense is to push legislation that would grant the legal, longterm foreign workers – the CNMI's de facto citizens – permanent residency with a pathway to citizenship or outright U.S. citizenship. It makes more sense to stabilize the workforce and finally welcome these longtime community members formally into the community as equals.
If the legal, longterm foreign workers were given permanent residency status then a stable, skilled workforce would be ensured. The CW Program then could be used to hire any needed replacements or fill new positions that local workers did not have the training or skills to perform. Perhaps the CW Program would run more smoothly if it was overseeing a few hundred or a thousand foreign workers rather than tens of thousands of them. As it stands today, still all of the applications for CW-1 visas submitted in 2011 have not even been processed!
We need to spend the next few weeks educating those who will have a role in drafting the immigration reform legislation as to the existence and plight of the CNMI's legal, longterm foreign workers. They must be included in any immigration reform legislation in a way that recognizes their great contributions and sacrifices. They should be separated from those who are not undocumented or unauthorized.
These foreign workers entered the country legally and remained legally for years and even decades. They must not be thrown at the back of some imaginary line or made to jump through more hoops. They have stood in enough lines, jumped through enough hoops, suffered enough, been manipulated enough and have sacrificed enough. The time is now to take a moral stand and finally do right by these people.