Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Alex A. Sablan reiterated Saturday night that granting permanent or improved status to long-term legal foreign national workers in the CNMI is “the right thing to do” while at the same time recognizing concerted efforts toward educating and training U.S. workers now that the tourism industry is on a two-year rebound “and headed for bigger and brighter opportunities.”
At the installation dinner for the Chamber’s 2014 board of directors, Sablan said that after decades of living in and contributing to the CNMI, “we should not deny them their opportunity.”
Sablan was referring to foreign national workers who would be forced to exit the CNMI en masse if the transitional Commonwealth-only worker program is not extended beyond Dec. 31, 2014.
“Now, after decades contributing, many raising families, possibly working alongside us and growing up side by side with many of our own children, haven’t foreign national workers that have lived here a decade or more earned a right to achieve that possible American dream under U.S. immigration law that encompasses the 50 states and most of the insular territories?” Sablan asked in his address as he begins his second term as president of the largest private business organization in the CNMI.
Many in the crowd inside the Hibiscus Hall of Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan were seen nodding in agreement.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), also in the crowd, has made sure that national immigration reform bills in Congress include a provision granting a pathway to improved status for long-term legal aliens in the CNMI.
A group calling themselves the NMD Corp. has been opposed to the CNMI-specific provisions of S. 744 and H.R. 15, each granting a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented aliens in the United States.
In his address, Alex Sablan pointed to his father’s generation that voted almost 40 years ago to join the United States political and democratic family with all its “amazing attributes and yes, possible consequences.”
“We recognize that the CNMI Labor public policy was one of immigration for employment only and not migration but, as callous and controversial as this may sound, when we lost that most important privilege, as agreed upon in our Covenant agreement, so too did we lose the privilege to manage that specific aspect of our public labor policy,” he said.
While pushing for improved status for long-term foreign workers, Sablan also recognized efforts toward “a truly viable workforce development policy” that’s a product of ongoing collaboration among agencies and their leaders including CNMI Labor Secretary Edith DeLeon Guerrero, the Public School System, Northern Marianas College, the Chamber, and other public and private entities.
Sablan also thanked the delegate, Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider for pursuing the request to extend the transitional CW program by five or up to end-2019.
The CNMI still doesn’t have enough U.S. worker populace to meet even the current economic activity, “let alone the projected potential increase of 1,500 to 2,000 rooms coming online” in the tourism industry in the next two to three years, he added.
Sablan also said that he and the Chamber board wholeheartedly believe that given all the facts that a majority of the society has come to want “certain expectations from public services” such as good public safety, good education, good health care and low cost utilities, this will “require a robust and viable economy.”
“The historical fact and until this day we would not have achieved and will not achieve our economic vitality if not for the important role we all played, but to be clear, to the many foreign national workers that contributed in one way or another to most, if not all, our individual economic benefits derived in the CNMI,” he said.
Jim Arenovski, former Chamber president and the Chamber’s 2011 Businessperson of the Year awardee, said in his remarks Saturday night that there are “noticeably positive” changes happening in the CNMI, be it economic activities such as expanding or new businesses, or government services such as at the Department of Public Safety or Division of Customs Services.
Arenovski, of Delta Management, urged Chamber members and guests to believe and do more about these “positive” changes.
He said the CNMI can’t just sit around and worry about negative things, but instead has to focus on positive things and those it can control so that the CNMI can be “a better place to work, live and play.”
Sablan also thanked the 18th Legislature “for resisting the urge and heeding our call not to raise taxes or significant fees that would thwart our effort to revive the economy.” He said the CNMI is on the cusp of seeing hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, more specifically on Saipan, in the next three years.
He said legislative initiatives and the Inos administration’s policies “are helping considerably to support a business-friendly atmosphere.”
Sablan also noted the island beautification efforts of Saipan Mayor Donald Flores, the Saipan Municipal Council, and others.
Another former Chamber president and Chamber’s 2005 Businessperson of the Year awardee, David M. Sablan Sr., meanwhile, regaled the crowd with the history of the Chamber. He started with the formation of the business group in 1959 with Joe Tenorio, more commonly known as “Joeten,” as president. Seven years later or in 1966, Sablan took over the helm.
“Here we are, 2014. This is an election year. Voice out your opinion on democracy, Article 12… Let us stand up for the benefit of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce,” he added.
Article 12 of the NMI Constitution restricts ownership of land to people of Northern Marianas descent. The Chamber wants changes to this land alienation provision.
2014 board of directors
A day after her investiture, CNMI Superior Court associate judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio administered the oath to the 2014 Chamber of Commerce board of directors led by Alex Sablan on Saturday night.
Also installed were vice president Velma Palacios, treasurer Jin Woo Choo, secretary Greg Moretti (absent at the ceremony), and directors Christopher Concepcion, Kevin McCale, Nola Hix, Rosemond Santos, and Ron Smith.
Sablan said he’s honored to be leading the 2014 board once again, after leading it in 2013. He also thanked outgoing board members Melvin Tenorio and treasurer Vince Seman.
Sablan also paid tribute to the late businessman and former Chamber president Anthony Pellegrino, who passed away last year, months after being bestowed the Chamber’s 2012 Businessperson of the Year award.
“Tony should forever be remembered for his fortitude to persevere in all of his endeavors. Regardless of the hurdles, he marched on and maybe to a different beat of the drum but it was his way of dealing with the particular challenge or opportunity before him and I believe the community benefited greatly for it. His legacy will be remembered in the great effort he put forward to champion vocational workforce development at a time when others couldn’t or wouldn’t,” he said.
Pellegrino founded and invested in the Northern Marianas Trades Institute, an entity that Sablan said “needs our continued support as they are one of the few options to train and certify individuals to effectively enter the CNMI workforce.”