DOI Response on Closing Ombudsman: a ridiculous insult

September 16, 2013

The Department of Interior, Office of Insular Affairs' response to Colorado Senator Ron Wyden's questions on the closing of the Federal Ombudsman Office in the CNMI was as odd and insulting as the decision to close it. It is obvious that the decision was made without thought or reason. The reply from OIA Acting Assistant Secretary Eileen Sobeck confirms that.

The letter contains words like "anticipated", and "assumed", suggesting that the leadership in the Office of Insular Affairs does not actually understand the reality of the present situation of the nonresidents. Nor does it understand the true function of the Ombudsman and staff. While the letter is constructed on premises and assumptions; it lacks truth and reality.

Sobeck told the Senator that "one of the fundamental issues that the CNRA, U.S. P.L. 110-229 was designed to address was the inadequate protection of aliens and once the CNRA was passed it was anticipated that many of the immigration and labor abuses would abate."

Actually, after the passage of CNRA the guest worker program essentially changed names. Instead of a dysfunctional and flawed CNMI guest worker program, it became a dysfunctional and flawed U.S. guest worker program. The CNRA is a defective law because it does not include a provision for guest workers to eventually become permanent residents. Any guest worker program lacking such a provision is an undemocratic and inhumane system that promotes the perpetually disenfranchisement and denial of rights of the nonresidents. It is a system that regards nonresidents as commodities or labor units that when used up can be exchanged for new nonresident workers who will remain perpetually disenfranchised and denied of rights.

The argument that the U.S. takeover of immigration in the CNMI would solve problems is invalid because of that major flaw –the lack of a provision granting an eventual pathway to citizenship for legal long-term nonresidents. As long as nonresident workers are regarded as replaceable and disposable, they will remain deprived of basic rights and they will need the federal ombudsman.

More startling is the fact that Sobeck minimizes the current trafficking, abuse labor and immigration problems that nonresidents continue to suffer. Perhaps she lacks empathy or just basic knowledge. Perhaps she is trying to cover for the failure of the Federal Government to act to protect the nonresidents.  She is so far off base that it is hard to figure out her motives. She stated:
"Prior to the enactment of the CNRA the Federal Labor Ombudsman Office was necessary to assist victims of egregious labor and trafficking violations. It has not been nearly 5 years since DHS has taken over immigration responsibilities in [the] CNMI pursuant to the terms of the CNRA. In the past several years, the work of the Ombudsman's office has shifted dramatically from working on serious labor and trafficking violations to assisting individual alien workers with more routine immigration and labor issues."
What is routine about an innocent Chinese nonresident being so severely beaten by a police officer that he is permanently damaged?  The F.B.I. the CNMI DPS, and the Office of the Attorney General who Sobeck claims will protect the nonresidents failed to provide justice for this victim. 

What is routine about Tinian Dynasty workers and Commonwealth Health Center nurses and other personnel being unpaid for months and years?  Where were the local and federal agencies that Sobeck claims will provide services for the nonresident workers?

What is routine about immigration problems faced by the aliens? Former Ombudsman James Benedetto was quoted by the Marianas Variety:
“Given all the new legal issues that have arisen during the transition period, such as parole, travel restrictions, different visa categories, CW applications, permits and renewals, to name but a few, there’s no doubt that the Ombudsman’s Office is just as important now as it ever was,” said Benedetto.
Nonresidents who cannot get immigration paperwork problems resolved do not just face deportation, they face being separated from their U.S. children and many face being deported from the only home they have known for their adult lives. Is that routine?

Alien workers are still being cheated. They are still experiencing wage theft, contract violations, and other abuses. They are still the victims of crimes. In some ways their plight is even more severe than it was in the late 1990's when the ombudsman office first opened. Since most of the alien workers have now invested many years or decades working and living in the islands, most do not feel free to complain.  With such an insecure status, to complain could mean that the alien workers could be forced to leave the only home that they have known for most of their adult lives. To complain could mean loss of a job, and even a poor job where a worker is cheated is better than no job at all. Exploitative employers know the predicament of the alien workers and they take advantage of their fear. From what I am hearing, too many unscrupulous employers are capitalizing on the alien workers uncertainty and unstable status. The Ombudsman Office should be kept open to advise and protect the exploited alien workers.

Perhaps more striking is the fact that the human trafficking cases in both Saipan and the CNMI have grown since 1999 and over the last few years. The Office of Insular Affairs is fully aware of the fact that CNMI human trafficking cases, including sex trafficking cases, have increased considerably over the years. The U.S. State Department’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report recommended that in order to better combat human trafficking, the United States needed to intensify enforcement and workers rights infrastructure, such as ombudsman offices, in insular areas. As a response, in May 2011, the role of the ombudsman was expanded to include providing assistance with human trafficking victims in Guam.

The State Department's 2012 Trafficking of Persons Report makes clear that this office is essential:

CNMI is a source, destination, and transit island for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. During the reporting period, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged two men with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, and financially benefiting from a sex trafficking venture, involving Chinese women. In CNMI, DOI's Office of Insular Affairs – Federal Ombudsman's office referred matters it considers to constitute human trafficking to federal investigative agencies and the U.S. Attorney's Office.The CNMI Human Trafficking Intervention Coalition (HTIC), along with representatives from Guam, sponsored a human trafficking regional training conference focused exclusively on human trafficking that was the first of its kind in the CNMI. Since the regional conference, the U.S. Attorney's Office has sponsored additional human trafficking and immigration-related training to community stakeholders. The first civil rights conference, which included human trafficking training, was also held in September 2011. 
The territory of Guam is a source and destination location for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. During the reporting period, there were no new reported human trafficking cases. With local and federal partners, the U.S. Attorney's Office held a two-day Pacific regional conference on trafficking in persons, which was the first of its kind. Since then, the U.S. Attorney's Office has sponsored additional human trafficking and immigration related training to community stakeholders. The first civil rights conference, which included human rights training, was also held in Guam. Sentencing and forfeiture proceedings are pending for a 69-year-old Guam bar owner who was convicted in the previous reporting period for conspiracy, sex trafficking, and coercion and enticement to travel for purposes related to prostitution, for a scheme to force young women and one minor girl into prostitution at his bar.
The closing of the office conflicts with the Obama Administration State Department report that praise the accomplishments of the Department of the Interior's Ombudsman. The report, Obama Administration Accomplishments on Combating Trafficking in Persons as of February 2012, summarizes the work of the Ombudsman Office and makes it clear how essential it is.

From the report:

Department of the Interior
  • Within the Department of Interior, the Federal Ombudsman (Ombudsman) provides assistance to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands' 30,000 plus nonresident workers with labor and immigration complaints. The Federal Labor Ombudsman participated in the Pacific Regional Conference sponsored by the DOJ, National Districts Attorneys Association, and DOS entitled, "Strategies for Justice: A Pacific Vision” in January 2011. The agenda for the conference focused on trafficking in persons, child sexual exploitation, and technology facilitated crimes. Over 400 participants gathered in Guam representing law enforcement, educators, health care providers, and social service providers from around the Pacific Region.  
  • In May 2011, the Ombudsman, along with other members of the Human Trafficking Intervention Coalition (HTIC) for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), sponsored an educational conference entitled "Human Trafficking Regional Training Conference." The HTIC is a coalition of law enforcement and social service organizations dedicated to fighting trafficking in humans in the CNMI as well as to provide immediate social welfare services to victims of trafficking. It was established in 2006 and has received numerous federal grants to continue its work. On September 14, 2011, the Ombudsman was elected the chairman of the CNMI HTIC. The Conference was the first regional training in the CNMI exclusively devoted to trafficking in persons issues and brought speakers from around the United States including AUSAs from South Carolina and victim shelter and rehabilitation directors from Cambodia. The Conference was attended by more than 250 participants from faith based organizations, law enforcement officials, services providers, and health care professionals from around the Pacific Region.  
  • Also in May 2011, Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Anthony Babauta expanded the geographic scope of the Ombudsman’s work to include the entire Marianas. Since the announcement of the expansion of her region of responsibilities, the Ombudsman has made several trips to Guam to conduct out-reach to the community representatives from both faith-based and ethnic-based communities to begin to develop the mutual trust and partnerships necessary to combat trafficking of persons in the territory. She has also met extensively with Guam governmental officials, both executive and legislative, which is necessary for effective prevention and prosecution of this crime. Developing a federal and local partnership also helps to leverage the resources available for the protection of victims. 
  • On August 9, 2011, the Ombudsman participated as a presenter during the American Samoa Multi-Disciplinary Team Against Family Violence, in collaboration with the U.S. National District Attorney Association's (NDAA) National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, hosted a conference entitled, "Weaving the Pacific to End Child Abuse." The focus of the Ombudsman's presentation was the experiences of establishing the Ombudsman office in the CNMI and its role in combating trafficking in persons. The presentation focused on the goal of establishing a regional approach to this effort. 
  • During the course of 2011 calendar year, 10 more victims of human trafficking sought assistance from the Ombudsman. Of these, based on extensive interviews and documentary evidence, it was determined that nine of these aliens had credible claims of victimization under the TVPA. The Ombudsman also assisted in the successful completion of federal law enforcement investigations of complaints involving 13 victims of trafficking or labor fraud. These investigations were referred to the U.S. Attorney for the Districts of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands and prosecutions are either underway or awaiting sentencing. The office continues to actively assist approximately 72 victims of trafficking or labor fraud whose complaints were referred in 2009 and 2010 to Federal law enforcement agencies with these on-going investigations as well as humanitarian relief. 
  • The Ombudsman is working collaboratively with USAOs, FBI, and DHS in identifying and investigating claims of human trafficking.
  • Throughout the year, the Ombudsman office has worked cooperatively with the legal community, lead law enforcement agencies, and Guma Esperanza with regard to victims seeking immigration benefits. The Ombudsman is aware of ten individuals who have received continued presence, and three victims as well as their derivative family members who have received T nonimmigrant status.
It makes absolutely no sense to reverse the progress that this office has made in improving the lives of the nonresidents.

Sobeck's List: "Federal Government, CNMI Government, Legal Aid and Nonprofit Organizations Assisting the Alien Population Within the CNMI"

Sobeck's letter concludes with a list of places where CNMI nonresident workers can seek help. Where on earth did Sobeck come up with this list!? Half of the agencies on the list are not even in the CNMI or are federal agency heads that do not respond to letters or emails that I send to them, never mind the nonresident workers.

I am sure the nonresident workers would love to know that they can seek help from Esther Fleming, Special Assistant to the Governor, one resource Sobeck listed. Esther Fleming was present at a meeting I had with Governor Fitial in December 2007. She suggested that nonresidents should not have children because they can not afford to properly support them. (Yes, that is correct.) Esther Fleming attended the anti-alien rally with ex-governor Fitial, then Lt. Governor Eloy Inos and some other "indigenous" folks who gathered to oppose the U.S. Department of Interior's 2010 recommendations that supported permanent residency for CNMI's long-term, nonresidents. What nonresident worker would seek help from her?

Another person on Sobeck's list is Gilbert San Nicolas, Secretary of the CNMI Department of Labor. The same secretary that backed oppressive CNMI labor laws.

CNMI Attorney General Joey San Nicolas made the list. Perhaps he might prosecute abusive employers. Although his office did not prosecute the cop that beat an innocent Chinese nonresident.

I also made Sobeck's list although I live in Florida and could not possibly provide the services that the Ombudsman has provided In fact, I usually refer those seeking help to the Ombudsman Office. 

Sobeck included Rabby Syed on her list. He has not been in the CNMI for almost a year. He resides in New York and is working to bring his family there to join him. Boni Sagana, Itos Feliciano and Rene Reyes who also are listed as resources are nonresidents themselves. These advocates have all referred nonresidents with problems to the Ombudsman.

Another person on the list is Richard Pierce, the director of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce who has lobbied continually for the delay of the federal minimum wage. In fact, last week when the U.S. Congress passed legislation that would delay the pathetic $5.55  an hour federal minimum wage from increasing $ .50 for another year, Pierce was celebrating. From The Saipan Tribune:
Saipan Chamber of Commerce executive director Richard Pierce said “a round of applause for our own U.S. Representative, the Honorable Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, is definitely in order.”
Does Sobeck think the nonresident workers would actually seek help from him? What could or would he do for them? 

Sobeck listed Nick Nishikawa, Chairman of the Hotel Association of the Northern Marianas as a resource for help also. Really? How can he help an abused worker, a victim of sex trafficking, a worker with an immigration problem?

Sobeck's list included Maria Malou Ernest, Chapter President Society for Human Resource Management -NMI Chapter. How many workers have Pierce, Nishokawa and Ernest helped over the last five years? Did Sobeck research that? Why are they on this list?

The Japanese Consulate in Saipan and the Filipino Consulate in Guam made the list. 

Frances Diaz Legislative Assistant for Delegate Gregorio Sablan is on the list. I suggest that every nonresident worker with a problem contact her. She is an intelligent person, but could the office handle the number of cases that have gone through the Federal Labor Ombudsman every week?

Jane Mack, the head attorney at the Micronesian Legal Services, Corp. made the list. I believe that she already stated that the Micronesian Legal Services does not, and cannot handle these type of cases. 

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.)." Labor abuses, human and sex trafficking  and immigration concerns are not listed.

Jane Mack made this comment on the petition to keep the Federal Labor Ombudsman Office open:
"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."
Lauri Ogumoro who heads Guma Esperanza made the list. She is an excellent source of help for human trafficking and domestic violence victims, but her agency does not deal with immigration or labor problems, as far as I know.

Support for the Closure

Senator Wyden questioned:
"Did OIA consult with the CNMI Government, the U.S. Departments of Labor, Homeland Security, and Justice; the alien worker community; and the CNMI Women's Shelter, and if so what were their views?" 
Sobeck ignored the questions about contacting  the alien worker community, after all who ever asks them? Obviously no one at OIA cared about their views. 

Who did she consult? Delegate Sablan and Governor Inos. Both supported the closure, according to Sobeck. 

Let Sobeck and the others who decided that the closure of this vital office was a good idea take responsibility for the suffering of the nonresidents that will surely result.

Read Sobeck's letter:


Anonymous said...

Ms. Wendy, CNRA's CW program is worse than CNMI's because of higher fees that CWs paying their employers just to get renewed.

Wendy Doromal said...

I know. It is just heartbreaking and unbelievable what the Federal Government has done. As I told a congressional staffer this week. It used to be that there were some congressional heroes in this story. No more. The Democratic members of Congress who used to protect and rally behind reform on behalf of the nonresident workers are now sticking it to them too. Look at the passage of the delay of the minimum wage bill. By the way, that bill will become law unless the President vetoes it. If he does not sign it after 10 days (minus Sundays) it is law.

Anonymous said...

USCIS and ICE are in the CNMI if people have questions they can make an appoinment to see them. The difference is many people might not like it when they here they have no legal right to remain in the US. Sorry but in many cases that is the cold hard reality. is it 'right' ? well people can debate that and they should but the law is the law and until the law changes fplks cant shop around hoping they hear an answer they want to hear USCIS ICE CBP and reputable attorneys will tell them the truth whether they want to 'hear' it or not..

Anonymous said...

10:31 USCIS is UNACCOMMODATING to the max! Appointment? hahahahaha. You get different responses from different people. Send an email and get another different response. Go to an embassy and they never heard of CW program. They don't know what there doing. Go to ICE? For what? Go to USDOL and they tell you that you work for a company that doesn't make enough to be covered by USDOL laws. This is abusive system and abusive uncaring people. I hope they get a chance to be treated as bad.

Hope Forpeace said...

Dear Wendy, Earthlink blocked our reply to your email. We are on your side and want to help. This latest part of the story is egregious. We think if the American people were aware, they would protest.

Anonymous said...

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

Wendy Doromal said...

No one asked for the program that was created -no one!

Wendy Doromal said...

bahahaha yourself, anonymous 3:40. Your comment was not published!

Wendy Doromal said...

Thank so much, Hope. I unblocked you and will be in touch. I appreciate your efforts!

Anonymous said...

DOI is encouraged by CNMI government and fat cats to make this happen. The situation of CNMI alien workers are just referred to other federal or local law enforcement agencies to get cheated continuously. Ms. Eileen Sobeck just confirms this to make alien worker suffer constantly in ONLY CNMI. It looks like "anything is possible by CNMI government". Whatever CNMI wants, is always given by U.S government. Is U.S government getting blind now-a-days?

Anonymous said...

what a nonsense on super power USA soil.what a human rights/freedom rights in USA.shame on sorry to say that...its all about corruption.I request to USA president mr. obama that seek in your country first before you seek in another nation about human dignity/ your country soil giving slow poison by fear (because they spend long time here in CNMI) to legal foreign workers by your abused federal/uscis system....well may GODBLESS USA hope so...amen

Anonymous said...

madam sobeck pleased dont close the omdbudsman office ,we need the office,just evalluate the staff and hire personel in us mailand not in guam and hawaii all caucacian peaple.and other federal agency.they have a strong connection...