Besides asking long-term legal aliens to help the CNMI “get through the transition period,” Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) also said yesterday he now has reason to believe that U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez’s anticipated decision would be to extend the transitional Commonwealth-only worker program beyond Dec. 31, 2014.
A U.S. Senate bill that Sablan drafted will be marked up on Thursday, extending the federal immigration transition period only up to 2019.
That revised version of the bipartisan S. 1237 would also extend the E2-C program for long-term foreign investors up to 2019, and ensure that the CNMI’s exemption from accepting asylum applications will last until the end of the transition period.
The bill that’s up for the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s markup will require the U.S. Department of the Interior to work with the CNMI to help reduce utility rates on the islands, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office to aid the CNMI in the budgeting process to help avoid annual and cumulative deficits.
A revised version of S. 1237 is needed because some of its CNMI-specific provisions already became law in recent months, including a delay in the 2013 and 2015 minimum wage increase and conveying 3 miles of submerged lands to the CNMI.
Sablan, a guest speaker at yesterday’s Rotary Club of Saipan meeting at Hyatt Regency Saipan, also put a spotlight on an ongoing petition “that calls for sending all foreign workers back to where they came from by the end of next year,” which he said is just the opposite of the Rotary Club’s values of unity, compassion, and caring for others.
“People are looking for ways to divide us. Instead of believing that by working together, by cooperating, by helping each other we can all do better in life—the Rotary values—these people are convinced that they lose when others succeed,” Sablan told Rotary Club members and guests.
He said some people “feed the fire of fear that we all sometimes feel that we are being taken advantage of or are in danger of having something taken from us.”
“Ironically, this fear is aimed at people who have added to the life and welfare of our community. People who have given, not taken away. People whose work and economic contribution will continue to be needed for years to come,” he added.
The Northern Marianas Descent Corp., which claims to represent thousands of indigenous people, is circulating a petition asking Congress to “reject” the inclusion in national immigration reform bills of any provision that would grant improved status to long-term legal aliens in the CNMI.
The same immigration bills—S. 744 and H.R. 15—provide a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented aliens in America.
This NMD Corp. petition addressed to Congress is separate from another petition it addressed to CNMI lawmakers, asking them to introduce a joint resolution to also oppose the CNMI provision in S. 744 and H.R. 15.
Sablan said this has produced a lively debate in the letters to the editor of local newspapers.
He said in the halls of Congress, people are still debating the meaning of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence over 200 years after the fact. It is thus not surprising that in the CNMI, there would still be debate on the meaning of the Covenant that established the Northern Marianas’ political relationship with the United States approved less than 40 years ago.
“But philosophical debates sometimes have to give way to practical reality. And no matter what a document signed decades ago or centuries ago may mean, we have to ask ourselves what is best for our community today,” he said.
Karl Reyes, a member of the NMD Corp. and a Rotary Club of Saipan member, in an interview after Sablan’s presentation said that he always believes the world is “round, so everybody can stay anywhere they want as long as they follow the law.”
When asked whether he thinks there would be 10,000 U.S. workers to fill up the jobs currently held by foreign workers, Reyes said, “Right now, I can’t even find a job because I’m over 70 years old…They don’t want to hire me because of my age. As long as a person can do it, hire.”
‘Bargain with foreign workers’
Sablan, who successfully inserted a provision granting pathway to improved status to long-term legal aliens in the CNMI in S. 744 and HR 15, said these bill protect people “with roots in our community.”
He said it also makes a bargain with foreign workers who have been in the CNMI continuously and legally for 15 or more years.
“Here’s the bargain: If you stay and help us get through the transition period, then you can apply to get a U.S. green card. If it is determined that you are eligible, and you receive a green card, you can go wherever you want: California, Hawaii, it’s up to you. Or you could choose to remain here in the Northern Marianas. Wherever you think the opportunities are best,” he said.
Sablan asked that these long-term legal foreign workers “stay with us for another five years.”
“Help get the Northern Marianas through the transition period until we have trained U.S. workers to fill the jobs in our economy,” he said.
‘Storm is coming’
Sablan said there is a storm coming and passing national immigration reform is inevitable, no matter how some people say it’s inconceivable.
“And because the Northern Mariana Islands are part of the United States, national immigration reform will rain down on us, the same way it will rain down on California or New York,” he said.
The delegate said his goal is to be sure that when the storm comes, the CNMI is not standing out in the rain without any protection.
“People who say we should get rid of special provisions for the Northern Marianas in national immigration law are saying: throw away that umbrella. Let’s just all stand in the rain. Let’s just all get soaked. I can’t agree. I think we need to do what we can to make sure that, when the storm comes, when immigration reform passes Congress, the Northern Marianas has some protection. And when the storm has passed I want—what I think Rotary wants—is a community that is stronger and more prosperous than ever,” he said.
Sablan had always refrained from saying what the U.S. Labor secretary’s decision would be, except that a decision would be made in January 2014. He had earlier requested that a decision be made by August 2013 to give CNMI employers and employees time to prepare.
In the past, he would only go so far to say he was not given a reason that the transition period would not be extended.
But yesterday, Sablan changed his tone, saying, “I actually may have reason to think that a decision would give us an extension.”
Without an extension of the transitional CW program, the CNMI loses immediate access to some 10,000 skilled and professional foreign workers after Dec. 31, 2014, a time when the CNMI is far from having some 10,000 U.S. workers to fill up these jobs.
Sablan said even acting CNMI Labor secretary Edith DeLeon Guerrero stated that there are over 1,500 or so U.S. workers looking for jobs, compared to some 10,000 jobs currently held by some 10,000 workers.
Once the transition period is extended up to 2019, that gives the CNMI additional years to train as many U.S. workers as possible.
But Sablan said the CNMI cannot continue to be dependent on foreign workers forever, as he keeps pushing for training U.S. workers.
In a later interview, Sablan said some members of the CNMI Legislature claim of investors interested in investing millions and billions in the CNMI which he said is “good.”
“Where are they going to get the workers? Do you really think those people are going to come in here, put that kind of money…if they know that they won’t have the workforce after 2019? Do you really think they will do this?” he asked.
Sablan added that sending home 10,000 foreign workers will mean 10,000 less customers for the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. and much higher rates than what customers now pay.
He said the Northern Marianas College, which also has many students that are children of foreign workers, would pull out once their parents are sent home, leaving NMC with much fewer students and money to operate.