Worker Groups United in Their Support to Keep the Ombudsman Office Open

May 13, 2013

The CNMI alien worker community is worried about the closing of the Ombudsman Office.

I received e-mails and calls from workers expressing concern, fear and shock.

Some comments from the alien workers that were written on the petition and from e-mails:
"How can an ordinary worker who is being abused but doesn't speak English well, doesn't have the money to pay a lawyer, doesn't know his rights, fight for his rights? Without the Ombudsman's office, these kind of people will be left drowning with the current situation in the CNMI where workers became more afraid than before to file a complain against an abusive employer because they will automatically lose their status specially if their CW1 has not been approve yet or under process."
"The Ombudsman office does their job very well to alien workers like us who always suffered wage theft from abusive employers. My friend now is working at Dynasty Hotel, and experiencing the same situation. If they will close the Ombudsman Office, what will happen to alien workers like us who needs assistance from people we only trust who can help us to face those abusive employers? WE NEED THEM. We need their help.  If they close their office we are like lambs trapped in a lion's fence."
"I really can't find the right words to say... the Ombudsman's office is like a lighthouse to us alien workers. Please... keep it open. Calling on father, President Obama - I look up to him as somebody who is approachable and have a heart for the needy."
"The Ombudsman's Office is the only federal agency that may resolve labor problems or may protect workers rights, KEEP IT OPEN FOR WORKERS SAKE!!!"
"Closure of the Ombudsman's Office is equivalent to dumping 15K plus aliens into the ocean of abuse in the CNMI."

The leaders of the CNMI's worker groups are united in the view that the Ombudsman Office is essential for the safety and security of the alien worker community, and must remain open.

Itos Felicano, President of the Human Dignity Movement said, "If the U.S. Congress will not give a green card to all legal foreign workers in the CNMI this year, then let the Federal Ombudsman Office remain open. This is the only department that will protect the foreign workers here in the CNMI from abusive employers. Remember Congressman Kilili Sablan will push the CNMI-only status.  If that [proposed Senate] bill becomes a law, we don't have rights and we don't have protection."

Itos encouraged all foreign workers to sign the petition to keep the Federal Ombudsman Office open.

In a telephone interview, Rabby Syed, President of the United Worker's Movement, NMI said, "Now, more than ever, the Ombudsman Office is needed."

"Since the transition to federalization the foreign workers have been given new policies and regulations that are difficult to understand. The Ombudsman Office has helped the workers to understand these regulations and forms," Rabby said.

He added, "The office is there for victims of crimes and labor abuses. There is no agency in the CNMI to pick up the services offered by the ombudsman and staff. The foreign workers will be harmed with the closing of the office. We need to protest this decision and reverse it before it's too late."

The Marianas Variety  quoted Rene Reyes, the president of Mahal, another foreign worker group:
“I am personally opposed to the closure. I was one of those given assistance by this office when I had a labor case against my former employer.” 
Reyes recognized the assistance he received from the federal labor ombudsman’s office, especially from Pam Brown. He said Brown expeditiously acted on the cases that his organization referred to her. He said even in the wee hours, Brown would respond and was ready to offer help.
The Saipan Tribune quoted Boni Sagana, President of Dekaka:
"The closure of the ombudsman's office is a “big loss” to foreign workers in the CNMI who will no longer have an agency to turn to when they need help." 
“Besides, the ombudsman's office has case workers that can translate for workers needing help-Chinese, Filipino, Bangladesh. It is sad to know that the ombudsman's office is closing. Foreign workers will be at a loss,” said Sagana. 
Sagana is among those helped by the Labor Ombudsman's Office when his employer improperly terminated him. “They were there to help, referred my case to proper agencies. An attorney took my case and represented me even though I didn't have money at the time. If the office closes, all foreign workers would need to pay for assistance,” he said.
Of course, indigent workers do not have the money to pay for attorneys, which is why they turned to the Ombudsman Office for assistance and a chance for justice.

An unnamed OIA spokesperson was quoted in the Saipan Tribune as saying, “There are legal aid organizations in the CNMI where foreign workers will be able to receive more technical and legal assistance.”

Where are these legal aid organizations "where foreign workers will be able to receive more technical and legal assistance"? What legal aid organization in the CNMI (if one exists) accepts the amount of cases, or the type of cases (labor, human trafficking, immigration ) that are seen by the Ombudsman Office?

I only know of one legal organization that offers services to the poor, The Micronesian Legal Services, Corp. Their website states that the have "limited capacity to help those in need" so their services are limited to "intake on family cases (divorce, annulment, custody, child support, guardianship, adoption, name-change, etc.)."

Attorney Jane Mack, the head attorney at the Micronesian Legal Services, Corp. made this comment on the petition:
"I've found the Ombudsman's Office incredibly helpful to clients at my office. Their assistance with translation alone is essential. Their ability to reach many different ethnicities with reliable information is a service not available elsewhere. If the US wants to maintain the progress made through its takeover of immigration in the CNMI, it should not close the Ombudsman's Office."
You can sign the petition to keep the Ombudsman Office open at this LINK.


Anonymous said...

The OIA needs an overhaul.Too bad their political games are hurting innocent people. Maybe the new secretary has some intelligence and will have some pull here. Let's hope so.

Anonymous said...

Shame on the Dept. of Interior. They were suppose to be the good guys.

Anonymous said...

Your leaders and all of us know how important this office is. We have to have it open. PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION AND SHOW YOUR SUPPORT.For you without computer please ask a friend or worker leader to help you sign. go here and sign
Thank you,
concerned OCW