Truth or dare?
“Truth has a canny way of catching people with their lies.” Let us see where the claimed of “I did not support removing construction workers from the eligible job categories for the CW permit in H.R. 339.” Gov. Ralph Torres made this denial publicly when interviewed by a local reporter upon return from his trip to the nation’s capital two week ago.
So, what was the cause of the denial and how did we get to the stage of finger-pointing?
Let us do a little bit of back tracking. When the CNMI’s control of immigration was taken away by the U.S. Congress due to leadership failure in resolving alleged labor abuses, human trafficking and inadequate immigration enforcement efforts, the dreadful consequence was the enacted via the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, U.S. Public Law 110-229. This law made fundamental changes in the way foreign workers are treated and allowed to work in the CNMI.
This statute has some fundamental provisions directly affecting the CNMI:
1) It provided the CNMI a non-voting delegate to Congress;
2) It established the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker (CW-1) visa classification, which allows employers in the CNMI to apply for permission to employ foreign nonimmigrant workers who are otherwise ineligible to work under other nonimmigrant visa categories;
3) It imposed application processing fees of $150
dedicated toward producing and training of the local workforce; and
4) It set a sunset provision of five years for the exit of all CWs from the CNMI.
The sunset provision of five years and its imposed mandate of training and producing the local workforce to replace foreign workers by the deadline has put our leaders on edge. To them, the fastest and easiest way to deal with this matter is to appeal for U.S. intervention, like they have done so before.
Rather than enact enabling legislation with adequate funding to commission the establishment of an accelerated local workforce development and training program, our current leaders opted to use their persuasive skills to deal with the issue. These leaders apparently believed that, with their mastery in persuading federal officials to extend the original five-year cutoff date of Dec. 31, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2019, they felt empowered by their success and thought that they could still use the same approach to mitigate the latest use of the CW for construction workers fiasco by certain Chinese employers.
Realizing that time is now running out on them, and especially as the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Program draws down, and USCIS released the cap for the final three fiscal years on Nov. 21, 2017, desperation becomes the feelings of heightened energy to do something immediate.
Even Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan got involved because of the pressure from the business community. As a result, he introduced H.R. 339, in consultation with local business and government leaders on Jan. 3, 2017. This bill was referred to the House committees on Natural Resources and Judiciary. The House passed it on Jan. 30, 2017. After the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, of which the bill was referred to, received written testimonies from the CNMI and made its final recommendations, H.R. 339 secured the Senate approval and the President of the United States eventually signed it into law on Aug. 22, 2017. H.R. 339 became U.S. P.L. 115-53, the Northern Mariana Islands Economic Expansion Act.
The cause of dispute and finger pointing, together with the forceful claim by Gov. Torres and members of the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. that Kilili had deceived/lied to them, was the proposed amendments contained in H.R. 339 for change to specific language in 48 U.S. Code Section 1806, Immigration and Transition.
This is a verbatim illustration of the text of the amendments in H.R. 339 Section 2. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Transitional Workers.
Section 6 of 48 U.S. Code 1806 is amended
(1) in subsection (a) (6), by striking “$150” and inserting “$200”, and
(2) in subsection (d) (2)
(A) by striking the period at the end of the first sentence and inserting “except a permit for construction occupations (as that term is defined by the Department of Labor as Standard Occupational Classification Groups 47-0000 or any successor or provisions) shall only be issued to extend a permit first issued before October 1, 2015; and
(B) by striking the period at the end of the third sentence and inserting “, except that for the fiscal year 2017 the number of permits issued shall not exceed 15,000.”
The other amendments that was inserted in H.R. 339 took away the administrative discretions of the secretaries of the departments of Labor, Homeland Security, and Justice and the consultation process with local authorities. Such discretionary authority was granted by Congress in the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 or U.S. P.L. 110-229.
Now that the public has read the written testimony of Gov. Torres before U.S. legislative committees and the amendments made by Delegate Sablan in H.R. 339, you, the citizens of the Commonwealth, be the judge as to, who wasn’t truthful and who deceived us all.
Daniel O. Quitugua
Kannat Tabla, Saipan