OMBUDSMAN OFFICE TO CLOSE

May 9, 2013

I received shocking news that the U.S. Department of Interior is planning to close the CNMI's Federal Ombudsman Office. I checked with another source, and regrettably the news appears to be true.

A shocking job vacancy  notice posted on the Jobs.gov website verifies the sickening news. It reads in part:
The Labor Ombudsman will work with the Policy Director of the Office of Insular Affairs to define, plan and staff the Ombudsman's Office and work in the fields of labor, immigration, civil rights, and criminal law. This office provides workers with the opportunity to state claims to a Federal official who can then assist the worker in the appropriate handling of such claims by a local or Federal agency. The incumbent will be counted on to establish relationships of trust and confidence with alien workers as well as to supervise the Ombudsman's Office fairly. 
This is a temporary appointment for which all qualified applicants with or without Federal status may apply and be considered. Appointments to this position, however, will not convey permanent status in the Federal service and will be for a period not-to-exceed 6 months. 
The Office of the Secretary has determined that the duties of this position are suitable for telework and the selectee may be allowed to telework with supervisor approval. This position has no further promotion potential. 
This office will be closing at the end of fiscal year 2013. The incumbent will assist with the closure and transition plan.
Over the years I have witnessed some really poor decisions and ignorant moves made by federal officials in regard to the plight of alien workers in the CNMI, but this one tops them all. I am shocked, angry and dismayed.

Some Background on the Federal Ombudsman Office
In 1998 I was hired by the U.S. Department of Interior's Insular Affairs Office to lead a 7-member team of attorneys and advocates to gather the latest information on foreign worker issues that would be of particular interest to the Federal Government. The report that documented the findings concluded with recommendations. Among them was one that I found particularly critical:
"Immediately establish a federal worker protection office to assist the need of the foreign contract workers including appropriate legal assistance, food, shelter and medical care."
In a meeting of key federal department officials and cabinet members, including Bruce Babbitt, then Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, I presented the recommendation along with the others cited in the report, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Labor and Human Rights Abuse Status Report.

For years my husband, Boboy, and I assisted alien workers through an underground railroad in Rota and later in Saipan. We provided emergency shelter and food. But beyond meeting basic needs, we recognized that victims needed someone to help them connect with the appropriate individual, organization or government agency to resolve their problems so we provided that service. We understood the urgent need of workers to have a safe, impartial place to express grievances, so our door was also open.  We knew that some of the alien workers had limited English abilities, so Boboy interpreted documents for Filipinos, and served as a translator for them at labor and court hearings.

It was a struggle to meet the needs of the alien workers who required help, especially since in the early 1990's their numbers grew from a handful to hundreds within a span of months. With no outside funding, restricted time limits, few resources, and limited language abilities, two people can only accomplish so much. A federally funded ombudsman office would provide all of the critically needed services, which is why I lobbied for its establishment.

Through the urging of advocates, members of Congress and former Insular Affairs Directors, Allen Stayman and Danny Aranza, the U.S. Department of Interior Federal Ombudsman Office was established in 1999. Finally, there would be a properly funded and staffed office where the foreign workers could go to seek much-needed assistance.

Essential Services Provided
Since the opening of the Ombudsman Office, tens of thousands of alien workers have been assisted. They were referred to the proper CNMI and/or federal agencies for help with labor, human trafficking, criminal or other abuse cases. This vital office has aided aliens that suffered from wage theft, illegal recruitment, contract violations, and those that were victims of criminal acts including rape, assault and battery, false imprisonment and torture.

Translation and counseling services are essential for the CNMI's community of alien workers that makes up 70 percent of the private sector work force. The four case workers at the Ombudsman Office have provided these services to thousands of aliens since 1999. Aside from interpretation, the case workers provide counseling, outreach education to alien workers; and assistance in applying for, and obtaining relief with appropriate Federal and CNMI agencies.

A breakdown of the work of the Ombudsman Office over the years demonstrates its need. From its opening in June 1999 until March 2008 at the end of the garment era the office assisted over 10,500 individuals; from then until November 2009, the effective date of federalization, the office handled over 8,500 cases; since then until now it has helped over 6,500 individuals. Even though the population of the alien workers has decreased from a high of over 40,000 to the present estimate of about 13,000 alien workers, the caseload has not decreased proportionately, which indicates the necessity for the office to remain open.

Human trafficking cases have grown over the years. In 2010 the Ombudsman Office reported 71 trafficking cases, with 20 percent involving sex trafficking victims.  Just 2 years ago in May 2011,  the role of the ombudsman was expanded to include assisting with human trafficking victims in Guam.

Immigration, and criminal cases have also increased since the opening of the office. In fact, they continue to increase. Likewise, the number of those seeking interpreting services has grown considerably. The need for this office is greater than ever.

In addition to the labor, discrimination, immigration, trafficking, and criminal cases the Federal Ombudsman Office also provided humanitarian assistance ( food, shelter, and referrals to counseling services and local and federal programs) to thousands of alien workers.

The number of alien workers seeking help from the office is a reflection of the trust and confidence that the alien workers have in Ombudsman Pam Brown and her qualified staff. The office offers a safe refuge for those who are abused, cheated, or victimized. It provides answers to those confused by complicated laws and policies.

The need for the ombudsman office is glaring. Anyone visiting the office would know the dire consequences of DOI pulling the rug out from beneath the alien community and leaving them without their primary support system. Why on earth would the U.S. Department of Interior make such an unwise and harmful decision?

Over the last few decades, the United States Government has made many missteps in dealing with the plight of the CNMI alien population. Initially they turned a blind eye to the problems. During the Abramoff-Tenorio-Fitial era, too many regarded the aliens as pawns in a self-serving political game and reform was elusive. Finally, when the CNMI problems escalated to such enormous proportions that advocates, foreign governments and international media outlets were protesting in outrage, the U.S. stepped in and made some small steps by providing band aid-size solutions for hemorrhage-size problems.

Advocates had hoped that the federalization bill would solve most of the lingering problems, but the U.S. Congress botched the bill and any hope for true reform by removing the essential status provision. Even the much-anticipated federal guest worker program turned out to be a hastily planned build-as you go Lego-type project. Indeed, the significant number of the immigration cases at the Ombudsman Office attest to the problems with the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program. Now, more than ever the Ombudsman Office should be maintained and expanded.

The establishment of the Ombudsman Office was the first major act of the Federal Government in dealing with the ill-treatment and injustice suffered by thousands alien workers. Tearing it down signals the Federal Government's indifference to the fate of those who remain in an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear.

Since the Ombudsman Office opened, I have referred hundreds of workers to the office. Without this office, who will assist the hundreds of indigent alien workers who were cheated of their wages and cannot afford to hire an attorney? Who will provide translation services for the thousands that require it? Without this office, who will accurately report on the status and problems facing the CNMI's alien workers? Without this office where will CNMI aliens find assistance with immigration problems?

If this office is closed, expect to see a return to cover-ups, unchecked labor abuses and intense oppression and victimization of the alien workers. We need to band together to reverse this senseless action. We also need to ensure that a qualified individual with knowledge of the CNMI and insular affairs is appointed to the post left vacant with the resignation of former Assistant Secretary of Insular Affairs, Tony Babauta.

Protest the Closing
I will be posting a petition requesting to keep the office open. I will also be contacting members of Congress and officials to ask for help in keeping the office open. Please join me in working to keep this office open! Updates to follow. . .


CONTACTS: Addresses, Phone Numbers, Faxes, and Emails:

U.S. Department of the Interior

Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.

Washington DC 20240
Phone: (202) 208-3100

DOI Office of Insular Affairs
Phone: (202) 208-6816
FAX: (202) 219-1989

Eileen Sobeck Acting Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs

Nik Pula

Francisco Taimanao

Governor Eloy Inos
Juan A. Sablan Memorial Bldg.
Capital Hill
Caller Box 10007
Saipan, MP 96950

Email Contact: http://gov.mp/contact-us/

________________________

Rep. Gregorio Kilili Sablan
Saipan Office
P.O. Box 504879

Saipan, MP 96950

Phone: (670) 323-2647/8
 Fax: (670) 323-2649

Rota Office
P.O. Box 1361

Rota, MP 96951

Phone: (670) 532-2647
 Fax: (670) 532-2649

Tinian Office
General Delivery

Tinian, MP 96952

Phone: (670) 433-2647
Fax: (670) 433-2648


Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Contacts

Senator Ron Wyden, Chair
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
304 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-4971
Fax: (202) 224-6163

Senator Ron Wyden  - Senate Office
221 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.

Washington, D.C., 20510 

tel (202) 224-5244
fax (202) 228-2717

Senator Lisa Murkowski
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
304 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-4971
Fax: (202) 224-6163

Senator Lisa Murkowski –Senate Office
709 Hart Senate Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Main: 202-224-6665
Fax: 202-224-5301
_______________________

House Committee on Natural Resources Contacts

Rep. Doc Hastings
Chairman
House Committee on Natural Resources
1324 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2761
Fax: (202) 225-5929

Rep Edward Markey
Ranking Member
House Committee on Natural Resources
2108 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 
202-225-2836



26 comments:

Anonymous said...

This can't be happening! Are they crazy? Is this caused by the lady from Fish & Wildlife who took Babauta's position? What does she know?

Anonymous said...

they don't know what's going on so they make a stupid decision and we'll suffer. outta, sight outta mind for us NMI OCWs. thank you m'am for this information and your work.

Anonymous said...

Please post addresses and contact for us to protest

Anonymous said...

oh no, what a sad news. I will sign the petition for sure! We need the ombudsman office to speak up for us.

Anonymous said...

no more trust in federal government.they don't care. haters everywhere. what chance we have to get help without money for a lawyer. none. that's how they want it. use us up and kick us out. what else they have for us. illegals in states get more than we do. haters.

Anonymous said...

The moment the Federal government took control of immigration the Ombuds office was set to close. You mention that the job of the Ombuds is to help foreign workers with immigration, legal, labor and other so called "humanitarian" aid. What do you think would happen if a CW walked in and told the Ombudsman they were on Saipan illegally awaiting work or anything else? What advice and help would the Ombuds give them? Turn yourself in, call ICE, what? Well anything short of calling in Federal officers to arrest the CW who was illegal would be obstruction of justice and the Ombudsman would be taken into custody. Can you see the problem here? The Ombuds is not their lawyer or priest.

Anonymous said...

3:43 Why should it be set to close? The takeover is a big fail. The ombudsman is still a necessity. I would imagine that if an "illegal" person entered the ombudsman office he would be told his rights and told about the prosecutorial memo. But if you want to know ask Mrs. Blackburn, right? No i don't see the problem. Look at the job duties. Noone said the ombudsman is their priest. She's a lawyer and ombudsman.

Anonymous said...

Those who are commenting, you may not know the beneath...U.S. Government wants to close the Ombudsman's Office because they are running out of money. They can't find anyone else in the CNMI to punish but the Ombudsman office. United States cried all over the world for Human rights, but here in the CNMI only Ombudsman helped upheld the justice for aliens for free of charge. The bottom line is, U.S. thinks now aliens in the CNMI should spend some money in order to protect their rights, a very smart revenue generating move.....life goes on, if the Ombudsman Office is ultimately close, then the members of the current Ombudsman office will not die in hunger, I think surprise and lesson of the DOI's mistake is on its way. We just have to wait to see it happen.

Anonymous said...

Is this a prelude to what will happen in the future concerning the CW situation?
Could it be no more exstention and also no status?
Interesting, but I do agree that it has to do with cut backs in spending.
I do not remember any other Pacific Island with such an office.

BTW, I wonder if this will mean that Pam Brown will run for the AG office?

Anonymous said...

providing legal advice and assisting foreign nationals all the while being a federal office is wrong, the federal government assisting foreign nationals in actions that were instituted by another foreign agency is unlawful. Legal advice and assistance was provided by the Ombudsman's office in violation of law. they represented aliens in actions before the federal government and attempted to hide that involvement. The office has been under scrutiny from their own agency. The persons who wored there had never had any training as federal employees yet held federal positions and new nothing about what working for the federal government involved. DOI is hoping that when this office goes away there will be no more controversy over what has happened there. That is unlikely..... Once the Feds arrived, USCIS,CBP and ICE there was no need for another federal agency to assist with questions related to immigration since any questions related to immigration can be addressed directly to those agencies. The federal government is not in the business of paying for an office to conflict with itself......

Anonymous said...

11:39 You're totally off base and have no clue.

Wendy Doromal said...

11:39 said, "The persons who worked there had never had any training as federal employees yet held federal positions and new nothing about what working for the federal government involved." Seriously? What person who has ever been hired by the federal government did not at one time begin as a new federal employee? Of course they had training!

11:39 said: "DOI is hoping that when this office goes away there will be no more controversy over what has happened there." The only people who ever saw the office as controversial hated the work that they did. Think Cinta Kaipat, Deanne Siemer, Ben Fitial -they hated that the office exposed the local government agencies as corrupt and inept.

Anonymous said...

maybe but federalization is three years along now and the federal agencies are now on the island to address the immigration issues. those issues are now federal not local so there is no need for an ombudsman to address those concerns any more. no other u.s. city or territory has a federal ombudsman that involves themselves in federal immigration matters. I am sure that is also behind the closure.

Anonymous said...

05/11/13 at 11:39 AM comment response:

Gentlemen/women: You are well within your rights to air your voice. But please do not undermine someone without knowing the facts. Please cite the section of the law that was violated by the Ombudsman's Operation. I am sure you can't. You must know that Ombudsman was created by the congressional appropriation and the public law in 1998. All the staffs at the Ombudsman's office were trained by USCIS, USDOL, NLRB, EEOC, USDOJ, CNMI DOL and many other agencies. In fact, the Ombudsman Pam Brown is one of the longest serving member of the CNMI Bar and former AG. Ombudsman caseworker and translators are highly qualified in translation and certified by the local and federal Courts. They have attended number of HT and criminal law trainings that you probably don't know. Our local law enforcement officers may not have that much legal training that Ombudsman's staffs had. If you have time please make an appointment and visit the Ombudsman in person to learn more. I am sure they will be more than happy to assist you in every way they can, or please try and test the credentials of the Ombudsman's staffs to learn more about them so that you may have more knowledge about the Ombudsman before you post your next comment somewhere, thanks a lot for reading my comment.

Wendy Doromal said...

1:57 No, not maybe. Open your eyes. Immigration issues are NOT being addressed. The entire federal guest worker program is severely flawed. Federal offices in the CNMI are not properly funded or staffed, including USCIS. They cannot even process applications within an acceptable period of time.

No other single place on U.S. soil has allowed thousands of foreigners to be routinely abused, cheated and victimized. No other place needs a federal ombudsman office, except perhaps American Samoa.

Anonymous said...

apples and oranges pre federalization there needed to be a conduit to the fed government enter the fed omds creation. once federalization came here there became a direct line as immigration became a fedral matter and those agencies are now here. if people want to assist the aliens with issues there are many non profit groups who do it. the fed govrnmnt isnt in the business to provide those services nor should they be. it doesnt happen in nyc los angeles nor in orlando florida and as of the end of this year it wont be happening in the cnmi. it isnt a conspiracy it is what being a part of the USA and now being under federal immigration law brings. no one said that interested persons couldnt form an orginization to assist aliens, just dont expect.the US government to pay for it....

Wendy Doromal said...

8:00 There is no NGO in the CNMI that handle the work of the Ombudsman Office. The numbers of clients indicate the serious need. It should not be closed.

Anonymous said...

i agree there may in fact be a need for some of the services offered by the omds office. I just don't see why the US government by way of the US taxpayers should be paying for it. if there is a need someone will come along and fill it, cept here in the CNMI it seems. how about all these rich lawyers who made huge profits representing the aliens in lawsuits or who are charging thousands of dollars to file for current immigration benefits. perhaps it is time for them to put their money where their mouths are, if they truly believe the rhetoric they espouse about the poor hapless aliens. Might require them to come down from their homes on Tapacho or Papago to get involved......but again there may not be a profit in it for them so I wouldn't expect to see them beating down the door to set up a non-profit. Mayb the ombs can continue doing what they do if they truly believe in it. I guess bottom line is.....is there a need for a service?? Yes...........who is going to pay for it????? Not the U.S. Government through the U.S. taxpayer... Those U.S. taxpayers who want to help can make charitable contributions to anyone who desires to form a group to assist the aliens in the CNMI, and I encourage people to donate. Difference is I don't expect people to have to have their tax dollars pay for it... not callous but a matter of dwindling resources and priorities. I understand those directly affected feel IT IS a priority for them but most U.S. taxpayers might feel different, and if they don't then there should be a lot of money donated.....

Wendy Doromal said...

8:39 Let me understand. The people and elected leaders of the CNMI WANTED the foreign workers. They sat and watched them be abused. Many employers STILL cheat them through wage theft and other violations. Many of them have suffered criminal acts from residents and even police officers. They have been victims of murders, rapes and other hideous crimes. They have serious problems due to a flawed immigration system, but you think that the tax payers should not pay for the poorly funded (as in a drop in a bucket) and staffed ombudsman office? Please! If the U.S. Government thinks alien workers should be allowed to the U.S. then they have a duty to ensure that their rights are upheld and that they are provided assistance when needed.

Anonymous said...

wendy... a lot of that is past history, pre federalization..that is why PL-110-129 was enacted, pushed for by most in the CNMI. Now the issues of immigration are addressed via USCIS, CBP ICE and the Immigration Court. that is the responsibility of the Feds now, they uphold individuals rights and if not it can be addressed through each of those agencies. in 1998 that wasn't the case which is why the omb was created. A drop in the bucket but each drop contributes to a flood....

Wendy Doromal said...

9:17 You are incorrect. The federal offices in the CNMI are poorly funded and staffed. USCIS cannot even complete applications in an acceptable period of time forcing uncertainty and suffering. It is a mess. Look at how many serious federal violations are not even investigated never mind prosecuted. The Tinian Dynasty has cheated workers since it opened and they are now months behind in pay. No federal agency ever took enough corrective action to get them to follow laws, did they? Look how CHC cheated nurses! There are translation services and basic information on other assistance, laws and policies that workers need. Workers consistently tell me that they cannot get an appointment at USCIS! Those lucky enough to get a response have found that they get conflicting responses depending on where it comes from -in person, email or California! Alien workers are stranded in Bangladesh and the Philippines because the Federal Government did such a terrible job informing embassies and other agencies on the CNMI-only program and visas.

You do not get it. I suggest yo make an appointment with Pam Brown and let her explain the functions of the office and review the numbers of alien workers that use the office.

Anonymous said...

the issues u talk about are not unique to the CNMI, anyone who submits an application to USCIS must wait, now that they are under the feds they are subject to federal rules and processes. there are 13,000 former GW in the CNMI. Look how many times the USCIS leaders have come out here, how many workshops have they sponsored for these 13000 and the employers. Unfortunatly too many people haven't liked what falling under fed immigration law has meant for them, not everyone is going to be allowed to stay and that is how it works. I hope others step up and assist the aliens in the CNMI but it appears the Fed Government has decided it will not be through the omb office. Have you spoke to Ms. Brown and is she going to continue to contribute in this roll or is she looking for other ways to assist aliens?

Anonymous said...

wasn't a lot of the abuse you described done under the leadership of Juan Babauta? Who was involved/in charge in the immigration and labor enforcement under his government? Per the article you link to......In 2002, Pam left the office of the Ombudsman to work in the administration of former governor Juan N. Babauta, becoming the CNMI Attorney General. Under her tenure, she was responsible for labor and immigration enforcement

Wendy Doromal said...

10:07 Yes, the problems are absolutely unique to the CNMI in several ways. Firstly, in the fact of the numbers of abuses per alien population. No where else on U.S. soil has there been the high number of abuse that has existed in the CNMI. No where else in the U.S. have thousands of aliens been cheated the way they have been and are now (documentation shows in excess of $6.1 million in wages stolen) and the federal government did NOTHING. Where else in the U.S. have tens of thousands of alien workers lived and worked legally for over five years and even decades and NEVER been given a way to get a green card? The guest worker program is horrible and flawed. Any guest worker program without a pathway to citizenship -that regards aliens as disposable – is evil, unjust and undemocratic AND it invites EXPLOITATION. Because of that the ombudsman office is essential. Look at the exploited alien workers if you doubt that. Show me where else it takes over a year to find out if an application is accepted.

Perhaps you work for USCIS or another federal agency and you want to defend the federal government? Or perhaps you work for the CNMI government, or used to? Your IP Address shows you live on Saipan.

Do you seriously think I am going to tell an anonymous person about any conversations I have with Pam? Of course I called her when I heard this news.

10:16 Same IP Address as above and so many of the negative comments on this post: So that's it? You have a vendetta with Pam? Jealousy? Rivalry? Think about the fate of the innocent alien workers and put your pettiness aside, please.

Anonymous said...

“Federalization: You asked for it; you got it.”

The law of unintended consequences once again rears its ugly head.

Federalization was “marketed” to and by the guest workers and activists as a panacea of sorts, while clearly it was and is not. Indeed, the poorest and most vulnerable “non-immigrants”, including some of my own relatives, have had to go home, while others are hanging on, hoping for the best.

Much of the impetus was clearly political, at the behest of former Chairman George Miller, former Speaker Pelosi, et al. So many appealing arguments were presented, from national security (“those dastardly ChiComs influencing the OAG”, “watch out for rebels from the Philippines”, “beware Bangladeshi document fraud, since the CNMI has no embassies or consulates”) to the ever-popular “It can't get any worse.”

You are right in your comments above and were correct in 1998. The major, central issue facing contract workers in the CNMI is insufficient resources devoted to federal law enforcement.

The violations of the 1980s and 1990s that continue only slightly abated were against federal civil or criminal law then and remain so today.

Nothing about the change in immigration control or the minimum wage alters any of that.

Because federalization was treated as some sort of magic pill, so many people have lost sight of the value in Department of Labor, EEOC, FBI, and other DOJ boots on the ground in the CNMI.

In my view, that should have been done before, or at the same time, as immigration and wage federalization. But that's water under the bridge; what's done is done.

However, as to the current need for civil and criminal enforcement, Dr. King was correct. “It is never too late to do the right thing.”

Wendy Doromal said...

12:32 Yes, but we did NOT get the federalization that we asked for or that we envisioned. Please review my work through testimony etc. and you will see I asked for green cards and a pathway to citizenship for every legal alien worker who had been in the CNMI 5 or more years. The grandfathering provision was even taken out. I attended the mark up hearing to protest and submit testimony. The guest worker program is severely flawed. It is not what we asked for or what we envisioned. Any guest worker program without a pathway to citizenship is evil and promotes exploitation. People are not labor units.

My June 4, 2009 testimony warned: "Currently, regulations for a transitional federal guest worker program are being drafted. It will not be enough to merely change the name of the guest worker program from the CNMI guest worker program to the federal guest worker program. The program must be totally revamped to ensure that unjust policies and regulations that have plagued the current local system are eliminated within the new federal program. The existing system is based on an economic model that steals labor. It is the closest system to slavery allowed to flourish under the American flag since 1864 and it is un-American."

So please stop saying that advocates and alien workers looked at federalization as a magic pill or ultimate solution. We saw it as a move forward. Unfortunately, it has been a baby step rather than getting the alien workers closer to the finish line. So sad. But those of us who care will continue the fight. I hope you will join us.