U.S. is Responsible for Roadblocks to Justice for CNMI's Legal Nonresidents

June 25, 2014

Seven years ago I sat with Delegate Madeleine Bordallo and congressional staffer Tony Babauta in her Rayburn House office to plead that the status provision be left in H.R. 3079. Governor Fitial and Guam supremacists, including Guam legislators, were putting pressure on Bordallo to remove the provision. I believed that if the status provision was removed from the bill then getting status for the CNMI's legal, deserving long-term nonresident would be next to impossible.

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. . .

. . . 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.
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

For someone who is smart, your one gullible person. Out of all people you should know that elected leaders are not to be trusted.

NOW look, my fellow kababayans are suffering with federalization. Most agreed that they regret supporting it. With CNMI Immigration they can go back home and visit family and friends without the hassle of paying or not worrying if they can enter the CNMI of not.

Most of my fellow kababayans left the CNMI because of federalization. It is true what the CNMI government and local businesses are saying, "WE ARE BEING PHASE OUT."

MY employer informed me and my fellow workers, that soon he will have to hire U.S. and local people because they can't afford to pay all those fees.

The Unity March was a waste of time for other kababayans who left the CNMI. There heads were up, NOW they look down in disappointment.


Anonymous said...

Blame Game.....Instead of blaming other people or government entities, you should find solutions and work with them. You ever heard of teamwork. It seems your not a team player.

Since your blaming people and government entities, you should be blamed also for promises you can't keep.

Work with the system, not against it.

Wendy Doromal said...

6:10 Get things straight. The U.S. is most certainly to blame for not acting on making the nonresidents whole and for not granting the LEGAL nonresident workers justice and long-deserved U.S. immigration status.

I have never made any promises, but I have worked for decades to get justice for the nonresidents. I am in no position to make promises, because I am not in a position of power. I can only promise to appeal to those in power to do what is right. I have sent hundreds of letters, spearheaded dozens of petition drives, organized demonstrations, presented testimony, and visited officials in the CNMI and Washington, DC over 20 times on my dime in an attempt to get justice for the CNMI's nonresidents. That doesn't qualify as an attempt to work with "team"?

Members of Congress have a responsibility to every person who lives on U.S. soil, whether they are citizens or not. They failed miserably as far as the CNMI's nonresidents are concerned. I do blame the U.S. The U.S. did nothing for years as thousands of nonresidents were abused on U.S. soil. Then they made half-hearted efforts to correct the situation, implemented a faulty guest worker program, and delayed increases in the minimum wage.

Anonymous said...

The Unity March wasn't a waste of time. It brought the workers together and got support. What's a waste of time is any more tries to work with the useless US Congress. People in Congress only has re-election campaigns on there minds. Your right to say the message needs to go to the people and press. Congress and officials are useless. If enough people get educated about the workers injustices, they could demand reform or even shame the US into taking action. We can't be shut up. Scream it to the corners of the world!

Anonymous said...

Come on Wendy. Your to blame also. It seems that your the only correct person. Everybody is wrong. Some would not admit it because they don't want to her your feelings, your part of the blame.

@7:46 What support your talking? The Unity March was a waste of time. Those that march, about 20 to 30 percent left the CNMI because of false hope or better yet false information.

Anonymous said...

We know the truth. the US gvt is broken. the system here's broken. we can try other countries or try to make it back home. what can we do when our lives aren't under our control? thanks for all you help m'am.

Anonymous said...

For all those who say that the CWs wouldn't leave the CNMI the moment they received a standard U.S. Immigration status currently found in the INA I have one name for you.......one of the biggest advocates for Federalization, one of the most vocal "supporters" of the CNRA...........Rabby Syed....... oh where oh where is Rabby Syed??? Man he bailed out of the CNMI before the lamination on his green card had dried!!! Where is he now??? Oh I am sure he is fighting the good fight in NY for all the CWs....... I am sure someone will tell Rabby about this and he might, if he has time, drop a letter to the editor saying that he is right there with you my brothers...... Yeah sure, he was one of the many who are only looking out for number one....... The law is the law my friends and until it changes you better comply with it because the Feds don't care who you are or who you know, the law will be enforced without exception......

Anonymous said...

This has all been stated many times in the past, but maybe one more time for those that are from a younger generation or uninformed.

The 'Unity March' did not make any difference on the Fed plan to take over Immigration.
The take over was done due to the fact that the NMI Govt never listened to the Fed many warnings on the amount of CW they were bringing in.
The notoriety brought out by Tan and others Garment factories put the NMI on the NMI on the Radar.
This along with the US Politicians and Lobbyist crooks the NMI Admin kept hiring kept the NMI on the US Radar.

The Unity March was just all about an improved status, but which was included in the original draft. (Fitil and other got rid of it)

Under the ORIGINAL agreement in the early days, to allow CW into the NMI, the SOLE purpose was to have them work alongside and train local workers on their skill and then be replaced by the locals, THEN LEAVE.

Unfortunately very few of the locals would work so this led to eventual opening of the flood gates for more CW and an unlimited extension instead of the original max of three years.

The elected kept raising the wages and benefits in the Govt. sector while leaving the private sector stagnant due to the payoff to the legislature by HANMI and the Garment factories so the private sector could keep cheap labor with no human rights.

Now this thing with CW in the NMI has also been going on all over the world for many years.
Many countries have come to realize that by importing so many outside workers they have taken jobs away from their own people.
This along with so many illegals still staying in the respective countries and working underground.

Due to this many many countries have cut back and have been limiting workers allowing only certain skilled workers along with age limitations.

New Zealand and Australia and Canada have good benefits for "qualifying" workers along with many European countries.
Many US Cit. workers are also migrating to many of these places.

Unfortunately, as here, there are many CW that have been caught in the middle after being allowed to make a home in another location away from their home country.

Is this fair, hell no, but some places there are options to be able to stay especially if there is a worker possesses the needed skill and the employer is supportive.

As far as the NMI is concerned and employer sponsored "H" visa and "Green Cards" is concerned with the worker leaving, I have been involved with this in the past along with others and only a few out of many have remained in the NMI after their required time as up.
Almost all joined their family in the US.
Although I do not know of anybody, with or without a "card" that leave without any contact in the US area they plan on going to go to.

The ones that stayed behind were either old or did not have any family elsewhere in the US while some went to Guam to work while maintaining a family in the NMI.

BTW Guam is also short handed in the Construction area and some other 'Skilled areas'

My own personal opinion at this time would be to attempt to get the US Congress to allow a status between Guam and the NMI for these present workers.
This would allow worker to travel in the area of the best paying job and the need while at the same time relieving the 'pressure' on the NMI local workforce.
With the number of planned developments on Tinin the rest of the NMI it will at least insure the close to the present number while forcing the private sector to raise their wages in relation to the job description and on par with Guam's.

Anonymous said...

A couple comments. . . I don't think the Unity March was a waste of time. Thousands of foreign workers, locals and state siders united against a really bad local labor and immigration law and in support for improved status. Their voices were heard in Washington. Federalization passed because of continuing abuses of foreign workers. Workers were (and still are) routinely cheated of wages.

My other point. 12:33 - I don't know what you blame Wendy for, but she's been the one steadfast advocate for worker justice -like forever! Most of the other advocates went on with their personal lives or became silent when they got federal grants or a high paying job here or somewhere else. Some attorneys who called themselves advocates only were supporting foreign workers to cash in on them. It's true that the federal government didn't do good by foreign workers. It's also true that only the federal government has the power to make U.S. immigration status changes and make amends.

Anonymous said...

Former CNMI governor Mr. Fitial and his gangs are to blame for why improved immigration statuses for CNMI long-term non-immigrant workers were removed. Do you know who these gangs are? Of Course, “They are present CNMI governor Mr. Eloy Inos, Washington DC-CNMI rep Mr. Gregorio Kilili Sablan, CNMI legislatures and Saipan Chamber of Commerce members”. They are trying their best to keep CNMI at dark in Western pacific to continue abuse and exploit CW non-immigrants as much as possible up to 2019. The freedom and voices of CNMI long-term non-immigrant workers are being shut by a signature of Mr. Frank Perez-U.S DOL Secretary. CNMI is the only soil in the world “Long-term foreign workers are given no freedom and improved immigration statuses”. United States of America must be ashamed for this situation. Let the whole world know what is going on with CW workers? So WHITE HOUSE can be placed under international media attention. And CNMI people, lawmakers including Mr. Gregorio Kilili Sablan can have a free lesson regarding U.S history.
CW workers in CNMI did not cross U.S borders. U.S borders crossed them. They deserve to have improved immigration status, especially those who have been here at least 5 years legally.

Anonymous said...

Oh please with the borders crossed us crap..
The law is the law and has been the law since 2009. You don't have to agree with it, you don't have to like it, but you had better comply with it because it is the law. Don't and then don't complain when the feds arrest you for violating the law and put you in their new jail on Saipan until you go before the immigration judge. Good luck with your foolish border crossed us argument in front of the judge.

Wendy Doromal said...

8:59 Good luck to the officials with their foolish "protect our rights" argument before God.

Anonymous said...

That is a different scenario Wendy but as Jesus said when it came to complying with Roman Law, ' give unto Ceasar what is Cesar's'

Anonymous said...

1123, I am quite familiar with the CNRA. Nowhere does it state that the GWs in the CNMI are supposed to get an improved status. It states they have the 'transition' period to transition to an immigration status that is a part of the INA. If there isnt one they are eligible to transition to they are supposed to leave. That is what the law says. It isnt about what people want or were lead to beleive would happen it is about the LAW that is written and in place. Do some of those that are not eligible for any other current status feel it unfair? I am sure they do but there are a lot of statuses found in the INA and if someone is ineligible for any of them the law states they cant stay beyond the transistion period. that is that....sorry but plenty of other countries welcome housekeepers ans waiters and waitresses and some might welcome the chronically unemployed but here in the US that isnt available under the INA ajd if it is apply. If you are found eligble good for you, if you are found ineligible, adios, zi jian, ciao, arrivaderci

Anonymous said...

Blame the U.S. When they go to war, blame the U.S., When they don't give citizenship, blame the U.S. When the U.S. does something good, they don't blame the U.S....Bury