Editor’s note: Saipan Tribune ends its weekly series with the story of 47-year-old Won Jun Lee. “Voices” shares the stories of those in the CW community and sheds light on the humanitarian crisis in the CNMI.
Won Jun Lee, 47, has lived on Saipan for more than half of his life. As a contract worker, he is worried of what may come if he is forced to leave the CNMI, where his father who passed away in 2000 is buried. Lee came to Saipan to join his family in 1991 and decided to stay and continue working as they moved to the mainland.
“I never imagined I would ever have to leave from here,” he told Saipan Tribune. “I have so may friends who are local, American, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and so many more.”
Lee is still waiting on his green card application, which his family filed two years ago. In that time, he is melancholy because of the situation his fellow workers are in as well.
“I feel so sad because many people who lived long time leave or died and some people prepare to leave now too,” Lee said.
He noted that many of those he knows who came to the island as investors, just like his own father, have not received any form of “improved status” after working for more than three or four decades.
“Even though they contributed to the island community for a substantial amount of time, but their status is still in limbo,” Lee added.
He also explained that in the process of applying as a contract worker, his family members and others he has spoken to are often held back by what he described as an exorbitant amount of processing time. He considers the situation to be centered around the value of “humanity” toward the community as a whole.
He added that when family members off-island are sick, he and his wife are unsure if they can leave the island to visit them because the processing time is unpredictable.
More recently, in the past year, Lee, like many others, was devastated by Typhoon Soudelor. He and his wife were dejected when a Federal Emergency Management Agency inspector told him that he does not qualify for federal assistance without a green card or residency. His siblings in the mainland had limited funding and struggled to assist Lee in rebuilding at the time.
At the end of the day, Lee said that “many people just want to remain in their homes and work for their family.” He added, “Do not let us continue to suffer.”
Saipan Tribune expresses its gratitude to those who bravely came forward to share their story as a part of this series.
– Mami Ikeda
– Amor Zapata
– Raenna Mae E. Aldabe
– Katrina S. Punzalan
– Won Jun Lee