April 29, 2014
Three main witnesses spoke on H.R. 4296, a bill introduced by CNMI Delegate Gregorio Sablan that would extend the flawed CNMI-Only Guest Worker Program for another 5 years.
David Gulick, Hawaii District Director for USCIS recapped the history of the program and touted the "accomplishments" of USCIS in implementing the program. He merely outlined the events and law and made no statement to defend or reject the proposal of an extension.
Gulick noted that the CNRA failed to include a provision that would "provide any INA status to these long-term residents of the CNMI or provide an avenue for such long-term residents (without a comparable INA status) to remain in the CNMI" (thanks to the efforts of two self-serving politicians: ex-disgraced Governor Benigno Fitial and Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo). He described the DHS parole policies that were adopted to fill this void.
Gulick also stated that the CNMI E-2 Investor Program was scheduled to sunset in December 2014 and there is no provision in the CNRA that addresses that.
CNMI politicians want to extend it the CNMI E-2 Investor Program for five years, which would do nothing to provide security for the investors. My view is that long-term legal business owners who have maintained a legally established business in the CNMI for five or more years should be granted permanent residency. These people have invested their time and money and have greatly contributed to the CNMI economy. Why should they be subject to such uncertainty for five more years? What will happen after that? Will they be kicked to the curb? Our Congress lacks the ability to plan for the future and
Gulick also addressed the fact that the CNRA postposed application of asylum process on CNMI until 2015:
While aliens present in the CNMI are not eligible to apply for asylum until January 1, 2015, DHS remains responsible for credible fear screening of certain aliens applying for admission who express a fear of return to their home countries. Although such individuals cannot seek asylum, the credible fear process provides a threshold screening for certain forms of protection that are not barred such as withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture. From the start of the transition period in November 2009 through the second quarter of FY 2014, a total of nine individuals made credible fear claims in CNMI, two of whom later withdrew their claims.
Under current law, aliens present in the CNMI may begin to apply for asylum on January 1, 2015. H.R. 4296 appears to extend the asylum application bar through December 31, 2019, although some additional technical clarification of Congressional intention on this important matter would be helpful as the bill proceeds in the legislative process. Under current law, and consistent with U.S. treaty obligations, aliens subject to removal from the CNMI could continue to seek withholding or deferral of removal because of threat of persecution or torture in their home countries.Asylum laws should be consistent everywhere and anywhere on U.S. soil. Yet, CNMI politicians and business elites want to continue the asylum exemption. They maintain if it ends it could end the Chinese visa waiver that the CNMI lobbied for to build its tourist industry if Chinese asylum seekers "flood" the CNMI. From the Saipan Tribune:
Gov. Eloy S. Inos, for his part, said it would be “ideal” if the asylum application exemption is made “permanent” or at least while the CNMI still relies heavily on tourists from China and Russia without a U.S. visa.
Both the delegate and the governor are wary that when the CNMI’s exemption from accepting asylum applications is not extended beyond Jan. 1, 2015, it could “open the floodgates” for tourists claiming asylum once they are admitted to the islands under a visa waiver program.
The Chinese government in particular could also start restricting its citizens from traveling to the CNMI as tourists once the U.S. territory accepts asylum applications.
Persons applying for asylum or protection with the U.S. could claim political or religious persecution in their own country.
“Anybody who comes to the CNMI as a tourist and once they land, they [could] say they want to apply for asylum. It’s a situation like it was years ago. Once it [exemption] expires on Jan. 1, we can’t say no [to asylum applicants]. Imagine the number of folks who want to do that. It’s just unthinkable. In the end, we’d be inundated with just asylum seekers here, it’s not going to be good,” Inos said, responding to Saipan Tribune questions.
When asked how long he would like the CNMI’s exemption from accepting asylum applications, Inos said it’s a “tough” question to answer.
“Ideally if we make it permanent. But this issue about asylum, it’s a real hot partisan issue back in [Washington, D.C.]. Some people say let them come in and apply; there are others who say don’t. To say for how long, in my view, as long as we rely on tourist traffic from China [and Russia] then we should be very careful because once this thing opens up, there goes our tourism market,” Inos said.Testimony of David Gulick:
The testimony of Megan J. Uzzull, Deputy Assistant for Policy U.S. Department of Labor, stated that the Department of Labor was reviewing "workforce studies that examine the economic impact of alien workers on the CNMI economy and labor market." Every study that was referenced was outdated. The latest one was from 2011, three years ago.
Uzzell outlined other investigatory methods that the department was using to decide whether or not to extend the transition period.
She ended her testimony by stating:
CNMI employers have a continuing obligation to adhere to and comply with applicable civil rights, labor and workplace safety laws. Employers in CNMI remain subject to the array of federal laws that, among others, ensure and protect the rights of workers to a workplace based on fair treatment, and free of unlawful discrimination and hazards to safety and health. Those and other workplace rights will continue to be applied forcefully by the Department and other federal agencies with jurisdiction to administer and enforce federal worker protection laws." The Secretary’s determination on whether to extend the transition period will be consistent with the requirements of the CNRA and the purpose of H.R. 4296.It should be noted that many CNMI businesses, because of size and profit limitations, are exempt from federal labor laws, including the minimum wage law. It should also be noted that the U.S. Department of Labor has a small staff and all federal agencies are located on Saipan; no offices are on the other two islands. In recent years very few federal offices have prosecuted business owners who have violated employees' rights or violated law.
The testimony of Thomas Bussanich, Director of the Budget Office of the U.S. Department of Interior Insular Affairs Office was also just reiterating the law and facts. He did not support the bill nor did he oppose it. Bussanich primarily focused on the distribution of federal funds to territories. The CNMI would receive the most funds from the DOI of all territories if the recommendation is approved.
My position is that there is absolutely no need for an extension of this flawed CNMI-Only Guest Worker Program. Every legal, long-term nonresident who has lived and worked in the CNMI for five or more years should receive permanent residency. That would provide a skilled workforce for the private sector.
Granting permanent residency to the legal dedicated guest workers and business owners who have demonstrated loyalty and given their skills to the CNMI for years and decades is the only just and ethical choice. An extension is a mere band aid. In fact, it would be like putting a band aid on a hemorrhage. It will not solve the problem for the economy, the businesses owners or for the disenfranchised guest workers who are denied basic rights and deserve a pathway to citizenship. They exist in an un-American system that is one step above slavery.
Congress has always regarded CNMI immigration issues with a band aid approach. They can never quite get it right. The political tip-toeing to meet politicians' self-serving agendas has come at a high cost to the nonresidents. Congress has refused to provide an INA category to guest workers who in reality are actually de facto citizens based on their legal status and longevity of their stay in the CNMI.
My position is described in this previous post, "Deadline on Extension Closer in Political Chess Game".