June 25, 2014
Both Bordallo and Babauta agreed that it was essential that the bill pass. Both claimed that removing the status provision would make it easier to pass the bill. Two steps they told me – first, get the legislation passed so that the federal government had control of the CNMI's immigration and second, grant status to the CNMI's legal nonresidents.
They assured me that although the status provision would be removed, there would be a provision in the bill mandating that the U.S. Department of Interior make a recommendation to the U.S. Congress regarding a secure status for the nonresident workers. That would ensure that within three years of passage of the legislation the nonresidents would be granted U.S. status, so they said.
H.R. 3079 passed in 2008 becoming U.S. P. L. 110-229, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act (CNRA).
Following my meeting with Bordallo and Babuta I continued to appeal to members of Congress to keep the status provision in the legislation. I provided written testimony at the November 7, 2007 markup hearing that I attended with my daughter, Nani. We presented hundreds of letters from the nonresident workers and their children in addition to thousands of signatures on petition pages. The status provision was removed.
Looking back, I now know that both Bordallo and Babuata had told me only what I wanted to hear when promising that status would be granted. Both of them lied to me. Neither of them had any intention of ensuring status for the nonresidents down the road as they had promised. The delegate would not push for status because her political career was more important to her than the lives of 20,000 nonresident workers. She would not risk the ire of Guam supremacists, which could negatively impact her political career.
Neither would Babauta. In September 2009 Tony Babauta was appointed by President Obama to serve as Assistant Secretary to the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs. He was given the perfect opportunity to ensure that status for the CNMI's nonresidents was granted. He would oversee the 2010 DOI Report on Status for the CNMI Nonresidents that was mandated in the CNRA, P.L. 110-229. The report stated:
"Consistent with the goals of comprehensive immigration reform, we recommend that the Congress consider permitting alien workers who have lawfully resided in the CNMI for a minimum period of five years to apply for long-term status under the immigration and nationality laws of the United States."If he had pushed for the U.S. Congress to act on the report's 2010 recommendations, it would have happened. He did not. Like Bordallo, Babauta put his future political career goals ahead of justice and security for the nonresident workers and their families.
In 2010 when the DOI Report was released the Democrats held the House, the Senate and the White House. Granting status would have been ensured if legislation had only been introduced in that time frame. For self-serving political reasons, it was not.
The time to act on legislation to grant U.S. status to the nonresidents was in 2010. No such legislation was introduced. The perfect window was shut. It would prove to be more difficult and ultimately impossible to get status pushed through after the Republicans gained control of the House.
The nonresident workers should be credited for advancing the economy of the CNMI and for keeping it stable. Remove these workers and their families from the CNMI and the economy collapses. Still, CNMI and U.S. politicians and officials pushed not for upgraded status, but to extend the problematic CNMI-only Guest Worker Program for another five years. They wanted to ensure the stability of the CNMI's economy while keeping the nonresident workers as the disenfranchised underclass that is denied of basic human and civil rights.
I do not believe it was the intention of the CNRA to keep the nonresidents in the CNMI as subservient minions, as disposable human commodities, as obedient labor units. The intent of the CNRA has been manipulated and perverted by self-serving politicians and their wealthy supporters who fund their re-election campaigns.
In my testimony for the 2007 House Resources Committee Markup Hearing I wrote in part:
Thank you for the opportunity to present my views on H.R. 3079, The Northern Marianas Islands Immigration, Security, and Labor Act. The legislation is long overdue and is welcomed by supporters of human rights, justice, democracy, and freedom. I was deeply distressed when I learned that the House Committee on Natural Resources would remove the already weak provision that would have provided nonimmigrant status to long-term guest workers.
To remove the “grandfathering” provision from this bill would destroy the integrity of the bill. I have worked to gain justice and rights for the guest workers for over 20 years and have pleaded with the U.S. Congress for 15 years to enforce U.S. laws in the CNMI, increase funding to the CNMI, and to grant the guest workers the political status that they deserve. As far back as the Reagan Administration the federal government has expressed concern about immigration, labor and trade policies being adopted by the CNMI. It declared that the situation “cannot be tolerated” and threatened to recommend to Congress that Federal law be enacted to end the abuses. The Bush and Clinton Administrations also made the same recommendations. . .
. . . The U.S. Congress has failed these people. The inaction over these last two decades has perpetuated the corruption of the CNMI immigration and labor systems. At the same time, the reputation of the United States as the torchbearer of human rights has been shattered in the eyes of the guest workers, their host country governments, and in the eyes of caring people throughout the world. Human rights agencies, host governments, international religious leaders, and the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights have been notified. It is time the U.S. Congress took appropriate and just action to remedy the mistakes of the past and end the cycle of corruption and suffering. The world is watching. . .Today it is not primarily the CNMI Government that is to blame for the suffering, uncertainty and hardships of the very people who have dedicated their lives to serving the people of the CNMI, although it certainly plays a role. It is the U.S. Government that has failed the CNMI nonresidents and continues to fail them.
. . . Even though the provision to grant non-immigration status to long-term guest workers in this bill falls short of what the long-term guest workers deserve, which is a direct and unobstructed pathway to U.S. citizenship, it is essential that it remain in the legislation. To remove it would be unjust and inhumane to the thousands of foreign contract workers who have been invited to toil on U.S. soil and have been abused, cheated, and subjected to humiliation and discrimination. It would put their U.S. citizen children in a perilous state. The U.S. Congress must take a moral stand for justice, democracy, and human rights and include a provision that provides protective status for the guest workers of the CNMI.
The U.S. Congress erred in removing the status provision in 2007. It erred in ignoring the 2010 DOI recommendations to grant the nonresidents U.S. status, and it erred in pushing for an extension of the flawed U.S. guest worker program.
In today's Marianas Variety three nonresident worker advocates spoke out about the injustices in the U.S. guest worker program and in the broken promise of U.S. status:
Three of the leaders of the 2007 “Unity march” yesterday said they never anticipated that their support for federalization would adversely affect guest workers and result in their phase-out “like disposable commodities.”
In separate interviews, guest worker advocates Itos Feliciano, Boni Sagana and Carlito Marquez admitted that what is going on now in the CNMI under federal law is something they never expected to happen.
“We thought things would get better for us once federalization happened,” Feliciano said.
“We had high hopes to get improved status. We did not anticipate it would get this bad. There are many of us who have gone out of status already, even those who have children born in the CNMI. We were asking for improved status but many of us got ‘out of status’ instead.
Maybe soon, the feds will start going after them.” Sagana said: “We did not know it would come to this. Federalization was triggered by the reports of labor abuses here. But now the labor abuse victims are the same people who are gradually being phased out, even those who have U.S. citizen children. So the very people who basically helped make federalization happen became its victims.”Please take the time to read the entire article. Read also some comments made by ignorant and racist CNMI residents who do not even appreciate the fact that without the nonresident workers their economy would collapse.
The U.S. Government's treatment of the CNMI's legal, nonresident workers is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which it has promoted since its adoption in 1948. Under this international decree, all human beings have the right to freedom of movement. This right is restricted unfairly under the CNMI-only Guest Worker Program.
Under this decree, every human being has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. Currently, the U.S. Congress is being pushed by CNMI elected officials to extend the CNMI's exemption from U.S. asylum laws.
Under this decree, every person has the right to equal access to public service in his country. Many of the CNMI's nonresidents have lived in the CNMI for more years than they have lived in the lands where they were born, yet they are denied equal access to public services in the CNMI. Under the CNMI-only Guest Worker Program they are oppressed, prohibited from enjoying fundamental freedoms and rights, and are maintained as a voiceless underclass that is subject to discrimination and exploitation.
The U.S. Government has had control of the CNMI's immigration since 2008. It can no longer blame the CNMI for the oppression and ill-treatment of the CNMI's nonresidents. It is ultimately the U.S. Government that has failed the CNMI's nonresidents and will be remembered in the pages of history books as perpetuating their suffering. It is the U.S. Government that is responsible for maintaining the nonresidents in a state that is a mere step above slavery, then callously tossing them from their shores like unwanted garbage.
We should consider the value of appealing to self-serving or heartless elected officials and bureaucrats in seeking justice for the CNMI's nonresidents. Any appeals made directly to the American people and the international media may hold more weight. The hypocritical, immoral and indecent treatment that the U.S. Government is displaying towards the CNMI's long-term nonresidents –the CNMI's de facto citizens– must be condemned.