September 15, 2014
Will a permanent immigration status ever be granted to the nonresident workers in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)?
A vast majority of the nonresident workers have lived and worked in the CNMI for over five years, many for most of their adult lives. They literally built the CNMI. They keep the economy strong, yet they remain disenfranchised with uncertain futures and no pathway to citizenship.
Of all of the categories of immigrants in the U.S. immigration reform debate, perhaps the most deserving of a pathway to citizenship must be the CNMI's legal, long term nonresidents. After decades of appeals, hearings, petitions, demonstrations, congressional testimony and political debates the CNMI's legal, long term nonresidents are not any closer to justice than they were when their plight was first exposed in the early 1990's.
The U.S. Congress does not function. President Obama has reneged on his promise to take executive action on immigration by the summer. Sadly, over the years the two steps forward, one step backward march to justice for the CNMI's legal nonresidents has become one step forward, two steps backward.
Members of Congress recognize U.S. citizens who pay taxes, but cannot vote (as they should), but do not recognize non-citizens who have paid taxes for decades and cannot become citizens (as they should).
At a time when most middle class Americans cannot afford a vacation, members of the U.S. Congress add more vacation days to their calendar each year. During the ridiculously long summer recess many members of Congress have revived the junkets made famous by Jack Abramoff and his cronies. Indeed, seven influential Republican members of the dysfunctional U.S. Congress and others (wives? staff?) used a U.S. military plane to take a summer junket to the Pacific. CNMI Delegate Gregorio Sablan, considered a Democrat in Washington, DC and an Independent in the CNMI, joined the Republicans congressmen on the junket.
The congressmen made stops in Australia, New Zealand and Saipan on the taxpayer funded trip.
|From Delegate Sablan's website|
During the visit to the CNMI, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), Chair of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee discussed the scheduling of H.R. 4296, the bill introduced by Delegate Sablan that would continue the CNMI's E-2C visa program and extend the exemption from accepting asylum applications until 2019 among other provisions.
Since 2009, the CNMI has enjoyed a visa waiver program with both China and Russia, two countries known for their human rights violations. Politicians and business leaders want to keep the tourist dollars that result in . If the bill does not pass, asylum applications will be accepted in the CNMI after January 1, 2015.
From The Saipan Tribune:
The CNMI is concerned that allowing the law’s provision on asylum to apply as scheduled would open the floodgates for asylum seekers coming here as tourists, including under a U.S. visa waiver program that could also potentially derail the parole program for Chinese and Russian tourists, among other things.
An equally serious concern is catching the ire of the Chinese government, which could pull the plug on airlines servicing the China-CNMI route and could hurt the islands’ tourism numbers.
In the past, most applicants for refugee protection and asylum, for example, were from China. They claimed they would be persecuted or killed for political reasons if they are sent back to China.
Tourists from China and Russia can stay in the CNMI for up to 45 days without being required to secure a U.S. visa—a DHS program that has helped boost the islands’ tourism numbers.Forget human rights. Keep those tourist dollars.
During their stop in the CNMI, the Congressmen were wined and dined by Governor Inos and met with influential members of the CNMI business community.
From the Saipan Tribune:
Hastings said he’s very much aware of the issues involved even before he got to Saipan because his committee has jurisdiction over the bill, and the CNMI’s delegate, Sablan, talks to him on a regular basis.
“But it is always good to have local people express to you the importance (of the bill). When we hear from people on the ground, that’s a very important step. But I was aware of the issue and our Committee has already acted on that bill so it’s not like we didn’t know about it,” he said.
Hastings added that the bill’s provision extending the CNMI’s exemption from accepting asylum applications is also “very important to the people here so that will very likely stay in the bill.”From another article:
A pending bill seeks to extend beyond 2014 the CNMI’s exemption from accepting asylum applications to help protect the now recovering tourism industry. The bill also seeks to extend beyond 2014 both the E2-C investor visa program and the foreign worker program, along with an extension of the CNMI and Guam’s exemption from the national H visa cap.
Among the CNMI business leaders that got to sit down and talk to the visiting members of Congress were Duty Free Shoppers’ Marian Aldan-Pierce, Joeten Group of Companies’ Norman Tenorio, Triple J’s Robert Jones, McDonald’s Joe Ayuyu, Delta Air Lines’ Chris Concepcion, Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Alex Sablan, Dr. Vicente Aldan, and Delta Management’s Jim Arenovski.
The governor was also joined by other government officials, including House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), Northern Marianas College President Dr. Sharon Hart, and Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Perry Tenorio.Of course, the junket goers, like those scandalous junket goers from the 1990's led by the likes of former U.S. Congressional members like Representatives Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Rep. John Dolittle (R-CA), did not meet with any representatives from the island's most populous group, the legal, long term nonresidents, the CNMI's de facto citizens. After all, politically, socially and legally they are considered mere labor units with no voice.
If the truth be told, the legal, long term nonresidents are the most influential group in the Northern Marinas. They determine the fate of the economy. These loyal and skilled workers make up the majority of the private workforce. They are essential in growing the tourist industry, in building and maintaining the infrastructure; in treating patients at the Commonwealth Health Center and are vital employees in all of the CNMI's major businesses and services.
Earlier this year, members of the U.S. Congress ensured the nonresident workers' poverty and the business owners' prosperity by passing a bill that would delay the scheduled increase of the CNMI's deplorable federal minimum wage, which is now $5.55. Hypocritically, the Democrats who claim that they support minimum wage increase for U.S. workers joined Republicans in suppressing the minimum wage is the U.S. territory where business owners rule.