January 14, 2014
|In 2006 I was invited to witness the introduction of the|
Human Dignity Act on the steps of the Cannon Office Building.
Reps. George Miller (D-CA), Hilda Solis (D-CA) and
John Spratt (D-SC) introduced the legislation.
I cannot even remember how many times I visited or called his office to advocate for the CNMI's nonresidents. I first came into contact with Rep. Miller's staff in 1993. I wrote a report on the Labor and Human Rights Abuses in the CNMI and sent it to his office. At that time Congressman Miller served as the Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.
In 1994 while living on Rota our family received death threats because of my advocacy work on behalf of the nonresident workers. Throughout these difficult times, Congressman Miller's office contacted us to check on our safety and even assisted us in with getting my husband's green card processed.
Miller's compassion and genuine concern are also reflected in pieces of his legislation that aims to better the lives of all Americans. He is known in the U.S. for his work to improve labor, education, and health conditions for every American. Last year he co-sponsored a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10.
I cannot even remember how many times I corresponded with or visited Congressman Miller's office, but every time I was welcomed and assisted. John Lawrence, Carrie Moore, Maria Howard and Ben Miller are staffers who were the best of the best on Capitol Hill while working in Congressman Miller's office.
Congressman Miller was attacked by politicians in the CNMI for his untiring push for immigration reform and fight to end labor and human rights abuses. He was successful in passing the minimum wage legislation that has increased the CNMI minimum wage, and for working to apply federal immigration laws to the CNMI.
While the CNMI politicians and labor abusers hated Miller and vilified him in the press, the human rights advocates and nonresident workers viewed him as a champion and hero. In fact, a CNMI nonresident worker advocacy organization founded by nonresident worker Jerry Custodio was named The Human Dignity Movement after Congressman Miller's bill.
In January and February 1998 I led a team of advocates to the CNMI to update the conditions and status of the nonresidents workers. We issued a report, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Labor and Human Rights Abuses Status Report. A few months later Rep. George Miller took his own trip to investigate the horrendous problems that the nonresident workers faced. Problems like false imprisonment, forced prostitution, unpaid wages, illegal recruitment , contract violations and more. He issued a report, Beneath the American Flag, that reiterated and expanded on the problems detailed in our earlier report.
For decades Miller has been the champion for nonresident worker rights in the House. Along with former Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), he convinced many members of the U.S. Congress to investigate and take action to stop the human and labor abuses in the CNMI.
Miller was outraged when former lobbyist Jack Abramoff forged an alliance with the corrupt CNMI government leaders. Abramoff was paid over $11 million to spin the lies of CNMI leaders who claimed that there was no abuse of the nonresident workers in an attempt to block any congressional reform measures.
In 2005, Miller called for a congressional investigation into Abramoff's CNMI work, including "the overpayment for lobbying services, interference in territorial elections, interference in contract procurement, and the questionable payment of overseas trips for Members of Congress and staff."
Abramoff ended up behind bars. But thanks to people like Rep. George Miller, the truth about the CNMI's corrupt labor and immigration systems and the horrendous abuses of innocent nonresident workers was exposed to the world. In fact, the ill-treatment of the CNMI's nonresident workers has become the subject of hundreds of news articles, radio programs, television documentaries, films, and books. Congressman George Miller's work to institute reform was documented in many of them.
In November 2007 I went to Washington, DC with my then 16-year-old Saipan-born daughter, Nani, to attend the House Comittee on Resources Markup Hearing on HR 3079. We delivered copies of hundreds of petition pages signed by over 5,000 CNMI nonresident workers and their supporters pleading for the status provision to be kept in the legislation.
The first stop we made on that trip to Washington, DC. was to Congressman Miller's office. Congressman Miller understands why legal nonresident workers who worked 5, 10, 20 30 or more years on U.S. soil deserve a pathway to citizenship. He understands why thousands of legal, nonresident workers who were granted judgments for over $6.1 million in unpaid wages, but never received the money that is owed to them should have the opportunity to be made whole.
It was at that 2007 markup hearing that the legislation for the federal guest worker program was trivialized. The committee voted to remove a provision that would have granted residency status to the legal, nonresident workers. Guam Delegate Bordallo, CNMI Washington Rep. Pete Tenorio and the other committee members caved to the wishes of racist indigenous rights groups who considered giving rights to the disenfranchised, voiceless underclass of legal nonresident workers a threat to their power.
Promises that status would be addressed after the passage would prove to be hollow. The federal CNMI-only guest worker program is flawed because there is no provision for the legal, longterm nonresident workers to be granted permanent residency status. Just like the dysfunctional CNMI immigration program, the federal guest worker program regards nonresident workers as replaceable commodities. I am certain that if Congressman Miller had been on that committee, the provision for status would not have been removed.
Congressman Miller understood that the voiceless deserved a voice. Even as the CNMI Governor Eloy Inos and Delegate Gregorio Sablan supported the closing of the Federal Ombudsman Office, Miller, a true labor rights advocate and humanitarian, protested. He wrote a letter to the Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to ask her for to reconsider the hasty and unwise decision.
I did not always agree with every political decision that Congressman Miller made. I was disappointed that he listened to the false propaganda that the CNMI economy was doing poorly (when in reality it was booming) and thus supported Delegate's Sablan efforts to delay the scheduled $ .50 increase for the CNMI's minimum wage. As a result, the CNMI minimum wage remains at $5.50 an hour. It's a rate that is far below the poverty level, a rate that prevents a decent quality of life, a rate that discourages the U.S. citizens to apply for private sector jobs. Because that legislation passed the CNMI minimum wage will not reach the national level for many more years than what was called for in the original bill.
Still, every other piece of legislation concerning the CNMI that Miller supported was fair and positive.
After the President Obama signed the Consolidated Natural Resources Act into law in May 2008 some advocates, former federal officials, congressional staff members and former CNMI nonresident workers gathered at the D'Aqua Restaurant in downtown Washington, DC. to celebrate decades of hard work.
Congressman Miller could not be with us, but he gave me a message to read:
May 14, 2008
Thank you for the invitation to tonight's celebration, and most importantly, thank you for all that you have done collectively to bring about this new era in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
All of you know that the labor and immigration situation in the Marinas has been an ongoing concern of mine for many, many years. The exploitation of foreign workers, and the role that Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, and their fellow collaborators played to continue that exploitation, is truly a dark chapter in the history of the islands and of the Congress. It should be no surprise that I agree with you: the labor and immigration reforms that we have passed in this Congress are truly something to celebrate.
I'm not so naive to think that our work is done, however. We must ensure that these reforms are implemented correctly, and we must continue to work to help the CNMI succeed.
While I'm very sorry that I wasn't able to join you tonight, I am confident that we will continue to work together to help those who live and work in the Marianas.
Member of CongressBest wishes to Congressman George Miller, one of the most successful members that the House has ever known.
This is what Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, one of Miller's closest colleagues, had to say about his retirement:
“Capitol Hill and California are filled with Democrats and Republicans alike who have enjoyed working with George Miller and who deeply respect him because his dedication to the issues and his excitement for the legislative process are infectious and undiluted by the years he has served or the challenges he had faced. For me, as Speaker and Democratic Leader, George’s patriotism, wisdom and guidance have been especially valued, and he has been a close friend since my first days in the House.”
“This is a great institution and I cannot thank my family and my constituents enough for having given me the honor and privilege of representing them in Congress these past 40 years. I have tried to repay them for their confidence by working hard every day to make our country a better place.
“I’m proud of what I have been able to accomplish on behalf of children and families, working people and the environment, in my district and for our country, especially passage of national health care reform.
“I have not won every fight that I have waged. And there remain, of course, many critical challenges waiting to be addressed. But I have no regrets about what I have accomplished and what I have tried to accomplish in the public interest.
“Now, I look forward to one last year in Congress fighting the good fight and then working in new venues on the issues that have inspired me, and I will not seek re-election this fall. What a wonderful experience this has been.
“I came to Congress to help children of all backgrounds in America get a healthy start in life, have opportunity to get a good education, and eventually have the chance to work hard at a job with dignity. The first law that I authored expanded the WIC program that provides nutritional foods to pregnant women and newborns, and the most recent bills I’ve introduced would expand early childhood education and raise the minimum wage to lift families out of poverty.
“As a youth, I watched my father use his elected position to really help people, and I told myself, ‘That’s what I want to do when I grow up.’ Since I came to Congress 40 years ago, I’ve woken up every day asking myself the same question – ‘what is my opportunity to do some good today?’ And I think that I have lived up to the high standard I set for myself when I first sought this job, with the same degree of commitment and passion now as when I first started.
“I believe that we are in the midst of one of the most exciting and critical times for educational achievement, teacher empowerment and school reform. This includes the smart application and use of technology that offers a remarkable opportunity to address and reduce persistent problems in American education, like improving educational equity, strengthening teacher performance, and revolutionizing the teaching and learning environment in schools.
“This type of education reform and innovative thinking can change the lives of millions of American children, strengthen our communities, and revitalize our economy. Unfortunately, that’s not on this Congress’ agenda. But these reforms must happen, and I want to be part of them.
“Wealthy and powerful special interests have always had plenty of friends in Washington. I came to Congress to stand up for the rest of us. And I have learned a great deal in the process. Two lessons stand out among many: First, that enacting progressive public policy is good for our economy and our country. It helps to grow and strengthen the middle class, and that makes America a better place for everyone. And, second, that making good public policy is very hard work. The job is never done. It requires a great sense of urgency to move forward on the big issues and enormous stamina to see them all the way through. The wins don’t come quickly, even when the need is dire, and the losses are hard to accept. And third, that elections matter. Election results establish the basic parameters for what kind of legislation is possible in Congress. After each election, it is clear whether we will have a greater or a lessor chance of forging bi-partisan alliances to move major legislation to help the country.
“I will leave Congress with a full heart and a crowded plate, because the challenges of our times demand our constant involvement. We’ve made progress on many fronts but have a lot of work still to do. I’ll miss my daily collaboration with Leader Pelosi and so many colleagues whom I respect and admire, and I will always be grateful for the remarkable staff that I have been blessed with over the years. So much of what I have been able to accomplish is the result of a joint venture with my staff in California and Washington and so many talented and committed advocates outside of Congress.
“I look forward to continuing to work on the issues that have been at the core of my career and my passions, in particular education reform, economic fairness, and improving labor standards in the United States and abroad, such as in the worldwide garment industry.
“For the remainder of this year, I plan to push Congress ‘to do some good,’ including to:
- Extend long-term unemployment insurance benefits to the 1.3 million Americans who unfairly had their coverage cut off on December 28th.
- Raise the minimum wage to at least $10.10 per hour by 2016, index it to inflation, and include a raise for tipped workers.
- Further implement the Affordable Care Act to extend health insurance to all Americans.
- Find common ground to fix the No Child Left Behind Act. Make college more affordable through the Higher Education Act.
- Push for passage of the bi-partisan Miller-Harkin-Hanna bill to implement President Obama’s initiative to expand early childhood education services nationally.
- Enact comprehensive immigration reform. Encourage American companies to embrace international labor standards in their substandard factories in Bangladesh and other countries.
“That’s a tall agenda, I know, but it’s an agenda the American people strongly support and one that will help strengthen our country, reduce inequality, and create opportunities for all of our children for years to come.”