House Group Reaches Deals on Immigration Reform: What's in store for the CNMI legal aliens?

May 17, 2013

Click to enlarge. Play at your own risk.

The eight bipartisan House Representatives who have been working for months on a comprehensive immigration reform bill for the House have said that they have reached an "agreement on the main principles".  Still, it seems each month for the last six months, a member of this group has made this announcement that the bill will be introduced "next month" yet no bill has been unveiled. Now the group claims that a House immigration bill will be introduced in June. Meanwhile on Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold yet another meeting to markup the Senate version.

Members of the House bipartisan committee working on a bill are Republican members Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, Diaz-Balart of Florida, and Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson of Texas. The Democrats are Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Reps. Xavier Becerra and Zoe Lofgren, of California.

The New York Times says the House version "will most likely include a 15 year path to citizenship" for the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens in the U.S.  The Senate bill offers a 13 year path for undocumented aliens who arrived in the U.S. before December 31, 2011. The Senate bill also has fees and conditions that human rights advocates, including religious leaders, say are impossible for many to meet.

It will be interesting to see if the House bill contains a provision for the legal, longterm foreign workers of the CNMI. (You can access the Senate provision for CNMI aliens at this link.) Almost all of the CNMI legal aliens have lived and worked in the CNMI for over five years, and the majority of them have lived and worked in the CNMI for a decade or more. Will they even be included in the House version, and if they are, how many more hoops will they have to jump through to be granted a green card and pathway to citizenship?

As stated in a previous post, although I am not completely satisfied with the Senate provision, I share the sentiments of President Obama who said, "This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me. But it is largely consistent with the principles that I have repeatedly laid out for comprehensive reform. "

The CNMI provision would provide for an eventual pathway to citizenship for the legal, longterm nonresidents after a five year waiting period during which qualifying nonresidents would be granted a CNMI-only status. The provision would allow for travel without the restrictive paperwork of the current CNMI-only immigration system. Additionally, it would eliminate the expensive and problematic CW visa process for thousands of longterm nonresidents, while also stabilizing the CNMI workforce to encourage economic growth.

My interpretation of the bill is that the undocumented aliens in the CNMI would fall under the provisions of the overall immigration bill and would have a longer and more expensive pathway to citizenship. The out-of-status nonresidents that were brought into the CNMI as children by their parents would be covered by the DREAM Act provision, providing that they met the qualifications. 

Overall, I am pleased with the Senate provision, pleased mostly that any provision for the CNMI nonresidents was even included. If eventually passed, it would remove the uncertainty and instability that so many of the CNMI's legal, longterm nonresidents have suffered for years, and even decades. Families would have the threat of separation replaced with security. The provision would allow many CNMI nonresidents to finally realize the American dream that has been out of their reach for so long. Businesses could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they could retain the skilled and loyal employees that helped them to prosper over the years. The CNMI economy could recover and grow.

Still, it could have been, and probably should be tweaked to be more just for the CNMI legal, longterm nonresidents. The alien workers who have lived in the CNMI for 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years had hoped and expected to see a provision in the immigration bill that would have granted them green cards upon passage of the bill.  After all, they entered and stayed in the CNMI legally and their valuable presence and contributions cannot be disputed.

As stated above, the Senate version would grant qualifying CNMI nonresidents a CNMI-only resident status that they would have to hold for five additional years before they could even qualify to apply for a green card. Qualifying nonresidents would have to wait for six months after the passage of the bill to apply for the CNMI-only status during a 90-day period.

The nonresidents who are dissatisfied with the provision are not without good reason for crying foul. Many of the CNMI nonresident workers have been victims of serious civil rights, human rights and labor abuses while living and working on in the CNMI on U.S. soil. Abuses have included illegal recruitment, forced prostitution, human trafficking, false imprisonment, rape, assault and battery, and torture. The majority of the CNMI legal, longterm nonresident workers have been victims of discrimination and labor abuses, including blatant contract violations and wage theft. In fact, it would be difficult to find a CNMI nonresident worker who has not experienced discrimination, is not owed back wages, has not experienced a delay in receiving a paycheck, or who has not been paid for overtime pay for the extra hours that he or she had worked.

Many alien nonresidents and advocates, myself included, see granting green cards or outright U.S. citizenship to the CNMI's legal, longterm foreign workers upon passage of the bill as a way to make them whole. We see granting U.S. status as a token of justice to nonresidents who endured years of being cheated while both the CNMI and U.S. Governments stood by as the systematic abuses continued unchecked. In fact, for many of the nonresident workers, abuses such as wage theft continue today.

The well-documented $6.1 million in unpaid labor judgments held by cheated workers speaks to the fact that the victims have yet to receive justice and the employer-offenders have yet to be prosecuted. The foreign workers who were cheated on U.S. soil could receive some semblance of justice if they  were to be immediately granted green cards without having to jump through even more unwarranted hoops.

These law abiding citizens and upstanding community members have every right to want to see improvements in the provision. The nonresident workers, who make up 70 percent, a majority of the private work sector, should be encouraged to voice their opinions. After all, freedom of speech is one of the few remaining rights that the oppressed and disenfranchised underclass of nonresidents workers.

Many CNMI legal, longterm foreign nonresidents point out that the Senate bill's CNMI provision holds them – the legal nonresidents of the CNMI – to a higher standard than what is required for the undocumented aliens in the U.S., at least as far as the date requirement is concerned. To qualify for a pathway to citizenship, the 11 million or more undocumented aliens are required to have been present in the U.S. on or before December 31, 2011, while the dates for the CNMI's estimated 13,000 legal nonresidents reach farther back in time in order for them to qualify and they have other requirements to meet.

For some legal nonresidents –those with a U.S. citizen immediate relative– the CNMI status provision calls for them to have been continuously present in the CNMI from May 8, 2008.  (May 8, 2008 is the date that U.S. P.L. 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, was passed, applying federal immigration law to the CNMI.)

For other CNMI legal, longterm nonresident workers –those without a U.S. immediate relative– the Senate bill provision states that they must have "resided in the Marianas Islands as a guest worker under Commonwealth immigration law for at least five years before May 8, 2008 and is presently under CW-1 status. . ." That means that they have had to have been legally present in the CNMI from May 8, 2003.

All groups have to had "resided continuously and lawfully in the Commonwealth from November 28, 2009, through the date of the enactment of this paragraph. . ." (November 28, 2009 is the date that U.S. P.L. 110-229 went into effect.)

Feeling especially cheated and displeased with the CNMI date requirement are the nonresident workers with a U.S. citizen child who have been working legally in the CNMI, but cannot meet the proposed Senate provision's date requirement of May 8, 2008. They question why should those who came legally after the date of May 8, 2008 not qualify for a pathway to citizenship, yet undocumented aliens in the states who came on or before December 28, 2011 qualify. That is a valid question.

As one friend and advocate from Washington, DC pointed out, it is ironic that this provision requires these CNMI legal, longterm nonresidents to have suffered through the residue and aftermath of the Abramoff-Fital-DeLay scandal in order to even qualify for a pathway to citizenship.

The bitterness of the legal nonresidents is not without warrant.  If in the Senate version of an immigration bill, 11 million undocumented aliens can be offered a pathway to citizenship if they arrived in the U.S. illegally before December 31, 2011 then why should some of the less than 14,000 legal aliens have to have been in the CNMI legally since 2008 or even 2003 to qualify in the same bill? Why should the legal longterm CNMI aliens have to reside legally in the CNMI for up to 8.5 years longer than the undocumented aliens in the U.S. have to in order to be eligible to apply for a pathway to citizenship?

"How does one even rationalize giving undocumented aliens a date advantage over legal aliens?" a CNMI nonresident questioned.

Fair? Just? Absolutely not, but what has ever been truly fair, just or morally-based when it has concerned the CNMI alien workers? Unfortunately, of late, the members of the U.S. Congress seldom see the world from a just or moral perspective. Their perspective is most often the "what will help me to get re-elected" perspective, rather than the "what is just and moral" perspective.

Another group of legal, longterm nonresidents is also dissatisfied with the CNMI provision in the U.S. Senate immigration bill. That group is the legal, longterm foreign investors. These are earnest nonresidents, who met the CNMI and U.S. investor requirements and have owned legally-run businesses in the CNMI for many years and even decades.

The following email that I received last month expresses the frustration that many of the CNMI's foreign investors are feeling:
I am sending you an email regarding to the current CNMI provision on immigration bill. I would like to share with you about my point of view and the following is my brief background history. I am a long term investor in the CNMI. I have worked and lived in Saipan since 1989, over 25 years now. 
I have always viewed Saipan as my home. I have my own business and employ staff. I used to have a team of ten workers in my company. Unfortunately, it has been downsized due to the poor economy situation. My wife and I are currently holding an E2CNMI investor visas. However, the proposal immigration bill does not address CNMI long term investors. 
I am eager to know if my wife and I are included under group 5 in the provision as both of us do not fall into any other groups. Are all the legal foreign workers that have been here since 2003 eligible? It would be frustrating if CNMI long term investors are excluded, as we are the people who create job vacancies on the island. Although my wife and I are investors, fundamentally both of us also work as manager and sales clerk in our business, just like other foreign workers with CW status. 
Besides, the requirement and process is far more complicated getting an E2c visa than getting a CW visa. For instance, investing a minimum amount of money to CNMI for investment and maintaining the business. As a result, I am not satisfied with the immigration provision that long term investors are not included. I believe CNMI investors deserve better and should be granted immediate US citizenship instead. 
I realized that there are approximately five hundred E2c holders in the CNMI, a lot less compared to the number of CW holders which are estimated to over ten thousand. As far as I know, I understand that E2c status is intended to help as the CNMI transitions from the CNMI permit system to U.S. immigration laws. 
According to USCIS, “Individuals in the CNMI with E-2 CNMI status must depart the CNMI at the end of the transition period or qualify for and obtain another nonimmigrant or immigrant status in order to lawfully remain in the CNMI.” However, I consider this statement is unfair to those E2c holders that can not obtain any other immigrant status under the US immigration laws and are forced to leave when the transition finishes after 2014. It is inhumane and unjust when contributions made by the long term investors have not been recognized and not granting us immediate citizenship. 
I also object to adding five years waiting period before getting U.S. permanent residency. Speaking on the business industry prospect, an additional five year will not change much on the devastating economy in the CNMI, it will deteriorate more. To be honest, my business has faced the toughest time over the last five years in the transition period. My business could hardly survive because of the poor economy in CNMI but I am positive about the future of Saipan. Therefore, I did not choose to close down my business and leave Saipan when federal immigration took place in 2009. I have been looking forward to any news or good policies that can revive the economy. Unfortunately, it seems like my E2c investor status has put my 25 year business in risk. 
I am uncertain what I should do and where to go, worried about leaving Saipan the place where I called home. It will be a nightmare for all long term CNMI investors when the transition period ends in 2014. 
It is also difficult to maintain business when most of the legal foreign workers are hesitant about their residency status. A large number of foreign investors are in doubt to invest in CNMI because of the difficulties and uncertainties we are facing. The only solution is giving out citizenships to qualified legal aliens and the public will have confidence to invest. I am certain that long term investors are assets to the community and the CNMI needs us. I trust that Senate members and House staffs will take this into account when working on the immigration bill, as I believe ‘all men should be treated with justice’, and for sure long term investors are no exceptions. 
In the past, small scale foreign investors were welcomed and even recruited to open businesses in the CNMI.  I am not sure how the exodus of these legal, small scale business owners benefits anyone in the Commonwealth.

An investor who has dedicated 25 long years to running a business, employing workers, paying taxes,  and helping to build the CNMI economy will be deported after 2014 along with hundreds of others. To deport this entire group en masse would not just be inhumane and unjust, but will likely further adversely impact the CNMI economy. Not only would all of these business owners close businesses resulting in economic and tax loss to the CNMI, but they, their families, their employees and their families would be forced to exit.

Many officials who I have spoken to in Washington, DC have said that the Senate version of the CNMI provision is as good as it will get. It certainly corrected many of the flaws of H.R. 1466. It will be interesting to see if the House actually unveils its version of an immigration reform bill and where the CNMI nonresidents will stand in it.


Angelo Villagomez said...

Thank God you write about this stuff, Wendy. Nobody else would if you stopped.

Anonymous said...

True, Funny that out of status aliens in states are crying about the 2011 cut off date ( when the legal NMI aliens got the real short end of the stick.

Anonymous said...

Your points are well taken and sensible. That's the problem. Washington doesn't make sense. We can't expect anything from the US gvt or congress. Congress has been a joke since the Repubs took the House and it will stay that way until they lose it. All they know how to do is waste our money. Look how much was spent on voting to repeal Obamacare. It costs $1.75 million in operating expenses every time the House Repugs put this up for a vote. Times that by 37 times. They cost us over $64 mil for what? A repeal can't pass the Senate and Obama would veto it. Why don't they fix what they don't like. Oops forgot. That would make sense. Anyway don't expect these clowns to do right by NMI workers. They shoot themselves in the feet to try to score political points every day.

Anonymous said...

your game board is great.This game shows how far back we are compared to's plain wrong. immigration shouldn't be a game. it's about peoples lives. But if you read the game squares its all true.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kilili told me this:
May 8, 2008 was the date that PL 110-229 was enacted and so it was the
milestone that was used for the Northern Mariana Islands.

Yes It's true, a milestone for the CNMI, so it should be proactive not retroactive...

It should be who's legally / lawfully present on May 8, 2008 onwards not backwards.

and it will make better sense to that milestone...

Anonymous said...

10:45 You are so right. Forward, Shouldn't we be forward to the starting date that the illegals are given? We should all start together.

Anonymous said...

Much of this may be true, but not all. Few compared to the entire population of workers have experienced abuse as stated. Many to all US Citizens / locals have also been abused by contract management and foreign workers by these same standards of thought. The CNMI soil is not USA Soil and is not owned by the US government. Either way the costs and heartaches are high, but I still believe that a country should take care of its own citizens first, before trying to help so many others that the country cannot afford to help. If more of our own US Citizens had decent and stable jobs, I would think differently, but the fact of the matter is that about 40% of our US population is not working now and now may not be the best time to try to care for so many foreign workers, especially when companies government regulations neglect the local potential workers.

Anonymous said...

Human life deserves to be valued equally. There are no difference between humans in US mainland and CNMI. On May 8, 2008 under US PL 110-229 CNMI became officially part of the United States for immigration reason. Legal immigrants in US mainland may apply to get a LPR if they reside there continuously legally for at least 5 years. Does this provision of USCIS apply in CNMI? CW-1 program is used against this USCIS policy by people who like to exploit foreign immigrations continuously in CNMI. So legal alien workers living status are not improved but placed in danger in CNMI. Of course CNMI is also a part of political game where people are suffering because of some discriminatory policies recommended by politicians to Feds. Are feds really blind? Where is the justice for human dignity?

Anonymous said...

CNMI Soil is not a US soil?

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that Nov. 28 2009, the immigration laws of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) will be replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and other U.S. immigration laws. The definition of “United States” in the INA simultaneously will be amended to include the CNMI—providing new privileges and easing restrictions to CNMI residents wishing to live and work in the United States.


Anonymous said...

The US immigration game board is clearly illustrated and nicely presented. Thank you Wendy for your effort and always being there to help us legal cnmi aliens!

Wendy Doromal said...

Anonymous 3:06

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

In reference to 3:52 statement, has this been enacted yet?
If so then this in itself would be a game changer and there would be no use of all of these current problems.

If this is indeed on the books and is a law then it should be put into practice as such since all of these CW were indeed originally brought into the CNMI legally.

The biggest problem with much of the immigration laws is the minimum required income.
If this is amended to conform to NMI wage scales then it would also be a game changer.
BUT on the other hand it may also cause an influx of applicants from elsewhere such as Guam so they could qualify for a green card.
This would be worth checking out.I don't have the time.

Anonymous said...

As 12.41 mentioned earlier, Mam, is it true that if a legal alien residing in US for five years and pay tax can apply for permanent residency? . Does this provision of USCIS also apply in CNMI? just to confirm as i heard someone saying it as well

Wendy Doromal said...

1:58 Yes, 5 years is the number of years under the INA. The INA will be extended to the CNMI when the CNMI-only guest worker program ends. If you read through these posts you will see that I do not support extension of the USCIS CNMI-only Program unless no legislation that would grant green cards to the legal, CNMI longterm workers can be passed before the 2014 extension date. And if such legislation is passed, the program should immediately end. The program is a flawed and, like any guest worker program with no pathway to citizenship, it is cruel and immoral. Any guest worker program with no status provision and no pathway to citizenship is flawed, cruel and immoral. If every elected CNMI official would appeal for the just and moral solution -–to grant every legal long-term worker who has been in the CNMI 5 or more years green cards, it could happen. I am guessing that these officials are advocating to continue a problematic and immoral program that has no pathway to citizenship because it is an “easier” solution than the other, especially considering that the US Congress is a partisan, gridlocked mess.

We are not talking about millions, or hundreds of thousands or even 20,000 people where the CNMI alien workers are concerned. They are LEGAL, they are LOYAL, they are SKILLED. They are DE FACTO CITIZENS and they deserve green cards, not to be locked into a flawed guest worker program. They are not guests and should not be locked in a guest worker program. A guest comes and leaves. Many of these workers have legally spent more of their adult lives in the CNMI than in their homelands.

The argument that workers are needed is very true. What is not true is that the guest worker program needs to be extended to have the needed workforce. What the CNMI politicians are really asking for (without coming out and saying) is that they want to keep the current workforce of 12,000 -14,000 foreign workers under government control; keep them oppressed and disenfranchised with no rights. Giving them green cards would ensure that the workforce is there, but with rights and a pathway to citizenship. Extending the program ensures that someone would be there – not necessarily the same people, but someone -someone to perform the needed labor. These elected officials look on the foreign workers as replaceable, disposable labor units, not as human beings who are owed so much for their work and sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

Could someone explain why only CW workers are provided relief in the Kilili provision? What about all the non-treaty investors that are now here in droves? Or what about the H1B, L1B, students that are not children of CW but are children of non-treaty investors? What about the smaller E-2C investors? Why are they not treated as well as others who have abided by the law as well as actually invested in the economy too? Anyone???

Anonymous said...

Good question. I see your point too.
Its just completely ridiculous that CW workers are in the bill but those H1B, L1b or E2c investors are excluded. I really think the bill should be amended before it put forward to the house.

Anonymous said...

I forgot all those care-givers for the elderly, disabled or otherwise infirmed who are not business but just humans with needs for assistance that they now have only through the discretionary granting of humanitarian parole on a case by case basis. Then the alien caregiver must pay an annual $380 for employment authorization again which is discretionary and up to the USCIS which can take months to approve. Finally, if we are considering a pathway to citizenship for estimated 11 million illegal aliens then why does the CNMI alien have to prove that they are in lawful status. The same system should apply everywhere the INA is applied. USCIC will never be able to handle all these different schemes.

Anonymous said...

Mam'm, how about those permanent residence here in the NMI, and those person born in the NMI, do they need to prove that they have legal status?
these people paid US taxes,like Fica for over or less than 18 years. these people should not wait for another five years to get green card, this is ridiculous. I AM SORRY TO SAY THAT. THATS ONLY MY OPINION! I FEEL SORRY FOR THEM.

Anonymous said...

Mam'm What is your opinion from 9:06 am? is it hard to explain?

Wendy Doromal said...

I agree, that they should not have to wait 5 additional years to receive permanent residency status.

Green Cards for All! said...

Some readers and commenters seem to have a misunderstanding about the five-year eligibility for citizenship after five years of residence in the U.S. under current law. The INA already applies in the CNMI.

The U.S. residence must be in an immigrant status.

The CW-visa is a non-immigrant visa, like the education visa. No matter how many degrees you earn in the U.S., that time does not count. Likewise time before the CNMI became part of the U.S. for immigration purposes does not count either -- unless a new law changes that.

Current law is really pretty simple to understand, even if one disagrees with it: Immgrant visa; time within the U.S. as defined.

Anything else requires a change to the law.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Wendy for your advocacy! A real advocate I must say!

Jaleel said...

Great post, I agree with the previous comment thank you Wendy