"Nothing Human Is Alien to Me"

May 16, 2014


The winning speech from the Attorney General's Speech Competition eloquently outlined why the U.S. Government should improve the status of the CNMI's legal nonresidents rather than extend the flawed CNMI-Only Guest Worker Program.   

The speech by Maria Fe Andrea M. Lazaro should be sent to U.S. Cabinet members, every member of the U.S. Congress, and President Obama. It is time our nation stops making excuses for bad policies, bad laws and bad decisions and instead works to correct them!

Improving the status for the CNMI's legal, long-term nonresidents is the only moral way for the CNMI to ensure enough skilled laborers for its private sector workforce. 

Read what a high school junior understands that so-called educated leaders cannot comprehend:


Nothing human is alien to me

By Maria Fe Andrea M. Lazaro

“Humani nil a me ali-enum puto.”
In English, this Latin verse by the Roman poet Publius Terentius means: “Nothing human is alien to me.”
It’s worth repeating: Nothing human is alien to me.
With today’s topic, it’s easy to lose sight of that. Amidst all the numbers and statistics and legal jargon, we can easily forget that today’s topic is fundamentally about people. It’s not about aliens, it’s not about immigrants, it’s not even about that elusive term “indigenous”—it’s about human beings. And if this verse from Terentius is to hold any meaning for any of us, we need to look past the legal definitions that divide us and embrace the humanity that unites us.
That is why I believe that the federal government should not extend the Commonwealth Worker permit program. Instead, the federal government should improve the immigration status of all CW workers as part of a broader immigration reform package that grants them interstate mobility. In short, we must give CW workers the same freedom that CNMI residents have had for over two decades: the freedom to choose whether to stay here or to seek opportunity elsewhere in the nation.
However, before I explain how and why the federal government should improve the status of CW workers, we must first address how and why the CW program has not worked here in the CNMI.
Gov. Eloy Inos, Congressman Gregorio Kilili Sablan, the CNMI Legislature, and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce have all urged the U.S. Department of Labor to extend the CW program up to 2019. However, despite these calls for an extension, in many ways, the Commonwealth Worker program has done more harm than good to the CNMI.
First, it has caused more confusion for foreign workers and the businesses that employ them. Since the CW program was launched in 2009, the USCIS has fumbled in its implementation with unclear and sometimes contradictory procedures and decisions.
Second, the CW program has hurt our economy. Soon after the CW program was established, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security capped the number of permits to 10,000, just at a time when the growing tourism industry needed a larger workforce.
Third and last, revenues generated by the CW program have not effectively built the local labor force that was intended by the CNRA.
As the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported, despite transferring $1.8 million to the CNMI, the Department of Homeland Security “does not collect information on the use of funds [in] the CNMI.”
So now, almost six whole years after the U.S. Congress passed the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, we still have a confusing CW program that has neither met the needs of the economy nor adequately trained a local workforce to replace CW workers.
By these measures, then, the CW program has failed. And extending it will only extend that failure for another five years.
But the problems of the CW program are not isolated to the CNMI. They are part of the larger immigration problem in the U.S.
The U.S. immigration system is so broken, that former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has said, “We will not remain a global superpower if we continue to close our doors to people who want to come here to work hard, start businesses, and pursue the American dream. The American dream cannot survive if we keep telling the dreamers to go elsewhere. It’s what I call national suicide.”
So, when the CNMI’s immigration system was federalized in 2008, we inherited an immigration system that was just as bad, if not worse, than the local one that came before it. This is why we need to focus on broader immigration reform. Specifically, the federal government should pass U.S. Senate Bill 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. With a minor amendment, this bipartisan bill will provide a path to citizenship for all immigrants—including current CW permit holders. And doing so will help the CNMI and the entire U.S. in three ways.
First, it will help our economy.
According to a 2013 report by the Congressional Budget Office, Senate Bill 744 would do all of the following: increase the size of the labor force and employment; increase average wages in 2025 and later years; boost the amount of capital investment; and reduce the U.S. deficit by $197 billion over the next 10 years. The budget office thus concluded in very clear and simple terms: “Senate Bill 744 would boost economic output.”
At the local level, the bill’s provisions for improved work visas and paths to citizenship would provide more interstate mobility for current CW permit holders. Foreign workers will finally have the choice to stay here in the CNMI, thereby preventing the loss of a critical workforce.
However, should they choose to leave for the U.S. mainland, the costs and logistics of relocating to the U.S. would delay their departure. That delay would allow a transition to a local workforce that is more gradual than the artificial transition imposed by the CW program. That transition would be driven by the needs of the economy, not dictated by law. In other words, our local economy would evolve in a way that more effectively builds a local workforce.
But immigration reform will do more than just help our economy, which brings me to my second point: Passing Senate Bill 744 will help address the cultural anxieties of Chamorros and Carolinians. As a Filipino, I think it’s important that we do not dismiss such cultural anxieties as racist or xenophobic. I personally understand the fears expressed by the Northern Marianas Descent Corp., which has argued that improved status will “alter and disrupt the social, political, and economic livelihood and aspirations of the indigenous peoples.”
However, contrary to those fears, Senate Bill 744 will improve the livelihood and aspirations of indigenous and foreigners alike. As I mentioned earlier, the labor transition triggered by the bill would build the local workforce. Moreover, the exodus of some foreign workers seeking greener pastures in the U.S. mainland will “right-size” the demographic landscape of the CNMI, helping make Chamorros and Carolinians, once again, the majority of the population. Most importantly, though, foreign workers that give up greener pastures to stay here will join Chamorros and Carolinians in calling the CNMI home. And I say that a Filipino who gives up the bright lights, big city of the States for his humble home in As Lito has more in common with the Chamorro who has lived in Chalan Kanoa all his life than he does with his Pinoys back in the province, or the local who moved to Boise, Idaho, many years ago.
Being able to call the CNMI home brings me to my third and final point: Giving CW workers the freedom to choose to stay or to leave is the right and moral and ethical thing to do.
Many of these CW workers have lived and worked here with their families for 10, 15, 20, or more years. My own parents have given their blood, sweat, and tears here for 26 long years. In other parts of the country, five years of legal work is all they would have needed for permanent residency or a green card. But not here. Not now. Not them.
This is wrong.
They are more than just CW workers. They are more than just immigrants. They are more than just my parents. They are human beings. And they deserve to be treated as such.
“Humani nil a me ali-enum puto.”
“Nothing human is alien to me.”
We should all treat each other better, not as aliens, not as indigenous, but as human beings, who share the same hopes and aspirations for a better future for ourselves, for our families, and for our islands.
And as Martin Luther King Jr. once put it, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
Or, as John F. Kennedy once said, “A rising tide will lift all boats.”
Likewise, when we improve the status of foreign workers, we will also improve the status of our islands and our nation.
And that’s something that we all want, need, and deserve. 

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

CNMI government can still initiate and fix this. U.S Public law 110-229 extended federal immigration law in CNMI. There was a provision for foreign worker’s improved immigration statuses in CNMI. CNMI government used Jack Abramoff –a lobbyist to scrape it successfully from U.S Public law 110-229. Foreign worker’s real freedom was erased. CNMI government leaders including Washington DC rep are still pushing hard to extend flawed CW program up to 2019, it means they also do not like to give “The freedom” to these long-term non-immigrant workers. It takes 5 years for a legal foreign worker to be a permanent resident in other part of U.S but not in CNMI. This can be solved by a memorandum of understanding between U.S Department of Homeland Security and CNMI government. To get this done, CNMI governor Mr. Eloy Inos or CNMI-Washington DC rep Mr. Gregorio Kilili Sablan may send an official letter to U.S president Mr. Barak Obama and U.S department of Homeland Security secretary Mr. Jeh Johnson to consider these CW workers to live and work in CNMI or United states freely. It is not too late to make a request that makes a great sense for humanity.

Anonymous said...

This is nothing new, the same argument has been made since the Contract Workers began coming in droves 20 yrs ago. These arguments were heard and the response was the CNRA. A five year transition was put in place in '09. It appears no one prepared for the end, this includes the local government/businesses in hiring/training persons other than CW status and the CWs who have made no plans to either adjust to a current INA status or if not make plans to leave. The feds were clear that after the transition program, whether extended or not the CW nonimmigrant visa goes away. A main point of the CNRA was to diminish the number of CW workers over the transition period. Everyone can admit that most of the 10000 CW currently in the CNMI are not in jobs that require expertise and can be replaced. Hotel workers, clerks, cashiers, stockers, waiters/waitresses etc are not considered skilled workers. For the most part hotels and other businesses have not made efforts to wean themselves off of CWs. DOL and DHS are aware of this and know they must take steps to force these businesses to do so. The CWs and others who are not working but still remain here because being unemployed in the CNMI beats being unemployed in their home country are hurting the cause of legit CWs because DOL DHS is taking that into account. No one can be surprised by the transition period coming to an end. this is what has been planned and everyone has known it.

Anonymous said...

8:28 AM, How will CNMI survive if there is no foreigner in CNMI? Just close your eyes and view the picture for a few seconds. The economy in CNMI is based on foreign investments and tourism. If Guam-CNMI visa waiver program is cancelled and CW-1 workers are sent back by DHS, Do you know what kind of picture you will discover? Act as a human being and make everyday a nice day!

Anonymous said...

You make a good point 10:33

yes look at guam and Hawaii they survive without any CWs and they pay more than 5.55 an hour. tourist still go there and will come here, even if businesses pay a good wage. There is no CW in guam and Hawaii people need a legit non immigrant visa. let the CNMI do the same. Hyatt hotel has eliminated a lot of CWs and hired local and FAS workers. they are doing well and always booked. it can be done...

Anonymous said...

If the population of "guest workers", especially those who have significantly contributed to the CNMI's economy for decades, were given an improved status under US immigration law - which is what the CNRA allotted for and the DOI report recommended (it's real main recommendation). Then, there will no longer be "foreign guest" workers....because they will have an improved status. The mindset of the physical presence of someone who is not of CNMI descent seems to be a stumbling block for many. Read the CNRA, it's not the physical presence of foreign guest workers that need to go to "zero" It's the permits for guest workers that need to go to zero. If guest workers are given improved status - a path to US citizenship, starting with a green card, then the guest worker no longer no longer occupies a "foreign guest worker" permit. It's the permits, not the people....and the people need improved status so they 1) are no longer classified as a foreign guest worker and 2) can continue contributing to the CNMI's economy, occupying the essential roles in the economy to keep it growing.

Anonymous said...

In regards to Foreign workers in Hawaii.
In the 1800's the Chinese came and set up shop as traders,later the missionary families (plantation owners)in the 1800's brought in pineapple, sugar cane and cattle etc.
They also brought in the first Chinese workers to work the fields and other jobs.
Then later came the Japanese. By early 1900's Japanese made up about40% of the total population. Then came the Filipino in the early 1900's.
These foreign workers also banded together and started small stores as a means of supplying their co-workers with what they desired culturally.
Among all of this came mail order brides to bring companionship and family stability.
This importation of imported 'manpower' continued on even after Hawaii became a state.
I do not remember what year this was stopped but eventually all became cit. or green cards holders.
At the demise of the plantations the workers were given deed to their houses and land that they occupied while working for the plantations.
Many descendants of the early families still have small (and large) business that their ancestors had started in the early days.
BTW, because the cattle were given as a gift to the King , they originally were allowed to roam and procreate until finally Portuguese cowboys (Paniolo)were brought in to teach the Hawaiian's how to confine and manage the cattle.

After the various wars more aliens were brought back as wives.
In the case of the Vietnamese many thousands were given asylum along with many thousands of Vietnamese fishermen from the US were "invited" to Hawaii from the US by one of the Gov's. (which upset the balance and caused much problems.
Other nationalities also came from all over to set down roots over the years.
That is why Hawaii today is so diversified and prosperous.
Without the outside workers Hawaii's economy may have stayed much like many of the present day Pacific Islands.

The first early missionaries married into the royal families and was given land and later on are the same ones that (along with the US Navy)deposed the monarchy and grabbed much of the lands thus putting the Hawaiian's in the bad position they are now.
NOT the foreign workers.
ALSO not the majority of selling their lands to foreigners.

In post war Guam thousand of Filipino's at a rate of about 500 a month, were brought in by the military admin.to help rebuild Guam.
Most came from Visas in the 1960's this tapered off.
Then as now in the NMI, the wage was very discriminatory with the Phil workers being paid a much lower wage than others.

So where are we in this equation in relation to past history of Guam and Hawaii?

If you go back to the Spanish era, after the Islands were decimated by the diseases that the Spanish brought in, the Islands were repopulated by the Spanish bringing in people from the Phil. and Malay. Thus look at the last names we have predominately here today.

Anonymous said...

There won't be amnesty and the line will take no less than a decade. And all time as a CW will not count as accrued service toward a green card or citizenship as that is already long been in black and white no matter "what your friend said" or whatever misinformation you relied on.

Early this year, House Republican leaders harshly criticized a Senate-passed bipartisan reform package because it would provide a special pathway to citizenship for many illegal immigrants living in this country — which Republicans rejected as amnesty. “If you want to get in line to get a green card like any other immigrant, you can do that,” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said at the time. “You just have to get at the back of the line so that we preference that legal immigrant who did things right in the first place.”

That sounds simple and eminently fair, but it’s really more complicated and challenging than that. And given the mind-boggling myriad of government immigration rules and quotas, even people who try to play by the rules can find themselves stuck in a seemingly endless limbo, according to experts.


A French national with a bachelor’s degree and a U.S. employer’s sponsorship may wait for two years or so to qualify for a green card to legally work in the United States. But another green card applicant from India with the same college degree and employer sponsorship likely must wait 11 years or more for that valuable visa.

For a resident of the Philippines who is seeking to join a sibling who is living in the U.S. as a naturalized citizen, the wait can be as long as 24 years — nearly a quarter of a century — if he or she is willing to wait that long or lives that long. And for the truly determined Filipino who hopes to make it all the way to U.S. citizenship, the waiting period could top 30 years.

Anonymous said...

May 19, 2014 at 9:12 PM ANON

YOU ARE DEFINITELY WRONG! THERE ARE CW HERE IN GUAM.

FYI, THOSE "NON CW" WORKING AT HYATT ARE NOT ALL LOCAL. THEY'RE FILIPINOS, THAIS, JAPANESE, KOREANS, ETC THAT ARE US CITIZENS OR GREEN CARD HOLDERS. ALSO, THOSE LOCAL WORKING THERE ARE THE GOOD LOCALS MOST PROBABLY UNLIKE YOU. BETTER GO BACK TO COLLEGE AND LEARN AND PERFECT ENGLISH TOO!

DO YOUR RESEARCH AND BE MORE FACTUAL. YOU ARE AN A..H..E!!!

Anonymous said...

You make a good point 10:33

yes look at guam and Hawaii they survive without any CWs and they pay more than 5.55 an hour. tourist still go there and will come here, even if businesses pay a good wage. There is no CW in guam and Hawaii people need a legit non immigrant visa. let the CNMI do the same. Hyatt hotel has eliminated a lot of CWs and hired local and FAS workers. they are doing well and always booked. it can be done...

May 19, 2014 at 9:12

Anonymous said...

There is always a season and a reason for everything under the sun. Whatever is your religious affiliations or beliefs, trust that God has plans for everyone. Believe that in His perfect time, He'll do His will for you wherever you are and you will be. We learned to embrace CNMI as our home but it may not be the place God planned for you and me. Always be ready for changes that He may bring sooner or later. Stay happy and blessed!

Anonymous said...

9:12, There are and have been Foreign in Guam.
When the military buildup was starting to get started, the cap on foreign workers was lifted to allow more CW to work in Guam due to the lack of workforce available.
Guam has always brought in CW under a work visa, "H" or other visa workers.
At the time before the buildup was set back there was an estimated order of 25k from the Phil.
I went and started recruited many thousands in the Bicol province with the help of the OFW office there.
Since then (and before) there have been many fly by night
construction companies getting fined and also shut down because of much labor abuses on Guam over the years. It has been front page news in most cases. I am surprised that you have not been aware of that.
Most are foreign owned companies.
Not much like what happens here in the NMI.
But you are correct on wages, the waorkers are supposed to get paid under the "Davis Bacon" if working on DOD projects. Also outside they are being paid on average about $10+ per hour depending on their job classification.
Not like in the NMI where all are paid the same minimum wage, from house keeping to college educated with Master Degree.