A former lawyer of U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services described a proposal to grant a CNMI-only status to long-term nonresident workers in the Northern Marianas as “not fair” and called for the inclusion of these workers in the comprehensive immigration reform plan of the Obama administration.
New York-based attorney Loida Nicolas Lewis, at the same time, advised legal foreign workers in the CNMI to “stand their ground” because hope is coming, urging them to be “very persistent” in petitioning Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) to support this plan.
Lewis, the national chairperson of the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance, spoke at an immigration forum hosted by USP4GG Marianas Chapter on Sunday at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe.
“Immigration reform is coming; it should be extended to you. Whatever is passed in the U.S. Congress for undocumented aliens and immigrants in the mainland should also be given to you,” Lewis said at the forum, drawing loud cheers from a crowd of over 300 nonresident workers, mostly Filipinos.
In a later interview, Lewis told reporters that a separate status for nonresident workers in the Commonwealth is not fair because many of these workers have been on the islands for many years and have contributed greatly to the island economy through the years.
“That is so unfair for me,” Lewis said, referring to the CNMI-only status. “Why will they [nonresident workers in the CNMI] be separated from the rest of the people in the mainland?”
A former attorney general of INS, now U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Lewis said the only way for nonresident workers on the islands to be included in the immigration reform is via a special provision in the law coming from Sablan.
That special provision, Lewis said, would also ensure that legal nonresident workers are also taken into consideration as the comprehensive immigration reform plan only covers those workers who entered U.S. soil without proper documents or those who were initially documented but later lost their working status.
“Whatever [Sablan] says will have a bearing on the rest of the congressmen in Washington, D.C. . So whatever he proposes will be accepted on face value. Keep close tabs with what he is doing because he has a great sway with the Latino caucus in Congress,” said Lewis.
Sablan was also in attendance last Sunday but did not stay until the end of the forum.
Lewis warned that without Sablan's support, the chance of having the benefits of the comprehensive immigration reform measure extended to nonresident workers in the CNMI is “zero.” “It will just be the legalization of [undocumented workers] in the mainland.”
Additionally, Lewis said the push for comprehensive immigration reform also needs the support of Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) since Guam is also part of the Marianas chain.
Lewis was scheduled to meet with Bordallo on Monday before flying to Manila for a global summit.
When asked if USP4GG will lobby for nonresident workers in the CNMI, Lewis responded that they are not a lobbying organization. She recommended, though, that these workers organize themselves and seek the services of prominent Filipino-American lobbyist Eric Lachica, who was instrumental in having Filipino war veterans receive compensation under the Obama administration.
She also advised nonresident workers to ask their voter friends to seek Sablan's support in having the comprehensive immigration reform extended to the Northern Marianas.
“We are in the best country in the world. You are responsible for your own happiness, so go and help yourselves,” Lewis told her audience.