May 30, 2013
In a surprising move, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs announced that the office would be closed in September 2013.
The closure will be detrimental to the foreign workers, resulting in further suffering and the denial of justice for thousands of foreign workers who routinely become victims of unscrupulous employers, scams, or criminal acts. (Please see these previous posts: Ombudsman Office to Close, Please Sign the Petition, More on the Closing of the Ombudsman Office, Worker Groups United in Their Support of the Ombudsman Office.)
The online petition to keep the Ombudsman Office open has been signed by some former U.S. officials, including Jeff Schorr, who served as the U.S. Department of the Interior's Field Representative in the CNMI for 25 years. He was quoted in the Saipan Tribune as saying, "It wasn't a wise decision to close the ombudsman's office because the office is in the best position to continue to monitor and assist in all those cases that come in.”
David Cohen, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for the DOI Insular Affairs Office, who now lives in California, also signed the petition, as did David North a former OIA staff member. Other notable supporters include attorneys, including Steve Nutting, Jennifer Sommer, Jane Mack from Micronesian Legal Services, Inc. and Richard Weil, former CNMI Attorney General.
James (Jim) Benedetto, who served as the Labor Ombudsman from 2002 - 2008, and presently works for the U.S. Department of State in Timor-Leste, penned a letter of appeal to keep "the office open for another five years, or at least until several important issues are resolved concerning the alien workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)."
The letter was addressed to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, Senator Ron Wyden, Chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Luis CdeBaca the U.S. State Department's Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking of Persons.
Mr. Benedetto's letter, written as a private citizen, clearly outlines the danger of closing the office and why it is needed now more than ever. It chronicles the history of the office, the mission and the necessity of keeping it open. Read the letter:
Call for Green Cards
Mr. Benedetto's letter states the action that the U.S. Congress must take regarding immigration status for the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers. From his letter:
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Mr. Benedetto should be applauded for his continued support of the foreign workers, his sense of justice and moral courage. Now what is needed is a member of the U.S. Congress with the same sense of justice, moral courage and plain common sense who will champion the cause of the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers to demand that they be provided the status that they have earned - permanent residency.