While the Fitial administration and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce have already asked Congress and the U.S. Department of Labor for a five-year extension on the federalization transition period set to expire in 2014, nonresident workers groups remain undecided and split on the issue.
This comes even as the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the implementation and enforcement of the CNMI-only Transitional Workers Final Rule are inviting nonresident workers and other supporters to join their cause.
United Workers Movement NMI president Rabby Syed said his group hasn't decided yet whether to support or not Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and the Chamber's request to have the transition period extended to 2019.
“No official decision yet. We need more research on this issue. We want to ask the Chamber and the Fitial administration if they have a survey to back up their request for an extension. Also we want to see the CW process to run its course,” said Syed in a telephone interview with the Saipan Tribune.
Syed also reiterated his group's request for improved status and a pathway to U.S. citizenship for long-term nonresident workers in the CNMI.
He said they will also request U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to automatically extend humanitarian parole next year to those who have already been granted that status.
Dekada Movement Bonifacio Sagana said his group is in the same quandary as Syed's group in that they have yet to come up with an official position on the federalization transition's extension.
To be honest, Sagana said, the Dekada Movement is divided on the issue. He said members who have good jobs seem to favor an extension for the sake of their families, while those who don't have jobs and are only able to stay here because of humanitarian parole are against it.
For the latter, any extension in the transition period will only extend their hardship and misery, Sagana said. Rather than prolong the inevitable, members without jobs want to find out by 2014-and not 2019-whether there will be improved status or not so they can go on with their lives, he added.
Personally, Sagana is against any extension. He agrees with members that it will only prolong hardship, adding that everyone knows that a CW visa is a non-immigrant status so even if there's extension, there will be no improved status.
Former Rota teacher and human right activist Wendy Doromal is also opposed to the extension of the federal transition period.
“An extension of a program that had a shaky start, was and is uncoordinated, lacks adequate funding and personnel and has little congressional oversight would not serve the foreign workers, their employers, or the CNMI. The CNMI guest worker program is problematic and has not provided the smooth and orderly transition called for in the CNRA [Consolidated Natural Resources Act],” she said in an email to Saipan Tribune.
Doromal added that there is absolutely no need to extend this program and that what is needed is a stable workforce that could only be ensured if U.S. Congress takes “the only right and humane step and grant permanent residency status to every legal, long-term foreign worker who has worked five or more continuous years in the CNMI.”
She said granting permanent residency to qualified long-term foreign workers would end the uncertainty and confusion.
“It would end six more years of fees, the problems and delays with applications, the confusion with visas and travel, and the constant toying with people's lives, not to mention the expense of running the program.
“The CNRA calls for a reduction of the foreign work force to zero by 2014. I have always interpreted that to mean that by 2014 the U.S. Congress would have introduced and passed legislation to provide permanent residency status to the legal, long-term foreign workers, making a CNMI-only guest worker program virtually unnecessary. This is the only just and democratic solution. It is the only solution that reflects our American values,” she said.
U.S. Public Law 110-229, also known as the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, provides for a transition period not to exceed Dec. 31, 2014, wherein all guest workers in the CNMI will be eliminated.
The law also provides that the U.S. Secretary of Labor will assess the CNMI's current and anticipated labor needs and determine whether an extension of up to five years is necessary to ensure an adequate number of workers will be available for businesses in the Commonwealth.
Wanted: Additional petitioners
In a mass email seeking additional petitioners, original petitioners Bonifacio V. Sagana, Manuel T. Vilaga, Gerardo G. De Guzman, Hector T. Sevilla, Carlito J. Marquez, Eduardo M. Elenzano, and Jong Ho Lee “is encouraging any individual, organizations, and businesses/businessman to join us in amending our lawsuit to make it stronger.”
In their invitation, the original petitioners said the amendment for additional plaintiff is due for filing on or before Sept. 28, 2012.
NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona dismissed the original petitioner's lawsuit last May 31, but gave them until Sept. 28, 2012, to file an amended complaint.