The current CW situation is a non-issue at all as certain public officials purported it to be. A brief political retrospection is necessary. You see, prior to 2008 (enactment of U.S. Public Law 110-229-the Consolidated Natural Resources Act CNRA) the Commonwealth was “conditionally” allowed to have full control over the administration and management of its immigration policies per Covenant provision as authorized by U.S. Congress. Immigration matters are congressional vested authority constitutionally conferred to and upon the Congress of the United States where its plenary powers over immigration is absolute. Even the President of the United States is generally powerless on this specific issue. As a matter of fact as recently as three weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court denied hearing American Samoa citizenship petition affirming congress absolute power on immigration.
Contract workers or CW is the same as nonresident workers or NW, which was a term used by our local government (prior to federal takeover) to described foreign laborers brought in to the Commonwealth by U.S. eligible employers for employment purposes only. The distinctive difference is that NW was governed under the legislative enacted Non Resident Workers Act (H.B. 21. H.D.1, S.D.2 or PL. 3-66) by the Commonwealth Legislature in the’80s. The classification of these foreign workers was changed from NW to CW as a result of the enactment of US PL 110-229 in May 8 of 2008, a CNMI only status. No other states in the continental United States or territories were ever granted such category and privilege.
If one recalls, one of the fundamental principles contained in U.S. PL 110-229 was to zero-out foreign contract workers in the CNMI. Thus, under the same statute the CNMI was given five years grace period to transition its U.S. workforce into the private employment job marker, unfortunately insignificant efforts has been done to take advantage of the five-year grace period allowed by law—instead we beg for another five-year extension, which was granted and will expire in 2019.
So, the CW situation is not an overnight development and sensationalizing it would not help change their immigration status whatsoever. Advocates for improve immigration status for these people have every right to seek and promote such desire. However, U.S. congressional history and political climate in Washington with respect to immigration matter is politically polarizing, particularly with a certain presidential candidate who demonized and created toxic debate on immigrants within or entering the United States.
Absence federal administrative reliefs, there is however, a glimmer of hope for possible resolution to those foreign workers who have been here in the Commonwealth legally for extended period of time. Change in immigration status for these groups could happen if and when Democratic Party Presidential candidate Secretary Hillary R. Clinton becomes president of the United States and congress acquiesces to it. She has advocated and supported enactment of Senate Bill 744—Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, which contained Section 2109— Improve Status for Long-term Legal Resident of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands recommended by Congressman Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan.
In the meantime all these emotionally charged comments and tit-tat arguments would do nothing to change the legal requirements governing the dispositions and movement of foreign workers and visitors in the Commonwealth. Our leaders and foreign workers seemed to be experiencing memory lapse when they appeared mystified or even surprise (typical CNMI response pattern to resolvable issue) that USCIS is implementing what the law mandated them to do. Remember that the intent of U.S. Congress in passing PL 110-229 was to zero-out CWs through annual progressive capping in the number of foreign workers to remain in the Commonwealth. The law took effect back in May 8, 2008, which was eight years ago and I don’t understand the uproar about the cap.
Factually speaking, neither the governor nor any elected officials of our government has legal authority to change, improve or modify immigration status of foreign visitors or workers in the Commonwealth. Because of our dependency attitude and addiction for self-mutilation we lost control of our immigration authority. Unless U.S. Congress confers otherwise, only sympathy and best wishes remain to dispose. Of course politicians will inevitably politicize this situation (people’s misery) for their own political aggrandizement, especially in an election year. Superficialzed indignation on this issue is tantamount to emotional bribery.
Daniel O. Quitugua