January 4, 2016
The Commonwealth Utilities Commission and 19 nonresident workers have sued Jeh Charles Johnson Secretary of Homeland Security, Sarah Saldana, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Leon Rodriquez, Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The ten-page complaint states that 33 essential CUC employees are skilled nonresident workers with CW-1 permits. Nineteen of those employees had permits that expired on December 31, 2015. CUC filed renewal applications for all of them in a timely manner. However, USCIS failed to act on the applications. By law the nonresident workers cannot continue to work after the expiration of their CW permits.
The defendants call for the USCIS to enforce the U.S. Administrative Procedures Act and compel the agency to act on the workers' CW petitions.
CUC attorney James Sirok is also asking the District Court to grant a declaratory ruling that would allow the defendants to work while a decision is being made on their applications for CW permit renewal.
The lawsuit also asks the court to "grant such other and further relief as this Court deems equitable, just, and proper."
USCIS should be held accountable. The federal agency should have to pay any wages that the employees lost due to the federal agency's failure to process the CW renewals. Businesses, employees and their families should not have to suffer because USCIS employees did not act on petitions that were filed within the specified time period.
The complaint also clarifies the importance of maintaining CUC's skilled workforce:
In order for the Utility to operate and provide utility services to the CNMI and its populace, it hires employees to perform various essential functions and duties which in turn results in the generation and distribution of power and water throughout the islands of Saipan Tinian and Rota and the movement and elimination of wastewater and sewer elements on these islands.No business should have to cease operating because a regulating agency is slow to act. When a shut down impacts a territory's entire population, it is especially inexcusable. All nonresident employees extending their CW permits should be able to work until a decision to deny or approve the renewal is made.
Governor Ralph Torres has also informed President Obama of the economic damage caused by the delay in processing the CNMI's CW permits.
The USCIS has been not given the proper attention to the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program. Instead of sending CW renewal applications to California to be processed as has been the practice, they should be processed in the CNMI so employers and employees can better monitor the status of their permits. A fully staffed USCIS Office should be set up immediately to address the critical needs of both nonresident workers and their employers and to prevent further economic loss to all parties.