DHS ‘very close’ on decisions for immediate relief for CW workers


Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan) said yesterday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security indicated they are “very close” to acting on requests from the CNMI government for immediate relief, or administrative fixes, to the ongoing contract worker crisis.

The CNMI government earlier provided administrative measures the federal government could act on to stay the departure of workers who have to leave the Commonwealth by the end of the fiscal year.

These included relief to allow workers to stay while they submit a new CW permit application, parole in place or humanitarian parole for workers, and adjusting the current worker to alleviate the strain on the economy after the cap was breached for the first time this fiscal year, among others.

Demapan was part of the “Section 902” talks team, led by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who met with highly placed federal counterparts in Washington, D.C. last month and Honolulu, Hawaii last week.

Demapan said the group recognizes this is a drawn-out process because of the complexity of the topics and the intricacies of the requests the CNMI is making.

Still, he hopes they have certainty on these requests before the third round of talks, which are planned for September on Saipan.

He says the federal government has shown good faith in taking into consideration the requests they have put forth. These also included longterm recommendations on the CNMI’s unique immigration system.

“We remain hopeful. I don’t think we walked away fully discouraged,” said Demapan. “The dialogue is ongoing and we will continue to remain optimistic as long as the tone is what it is at this point.”

“They are close to making a decision,” the House lawmaker from Precinct 1 went on to say. “Whether or not it’s favorable, that we don’t know. But either way, we would like to restore some degree of certainty to the business community and to employees.”

The CW crisis is expected to have shepherded more than 1,300 employees out of the Commonwealth by the end of the fiscal year, affecting families and employers alike.

Torres, in a statement, yesterday said the CNMI made great strides in these round of talks.

The Office of the Governor statement also said they have reached “an agreement that the CNMI needs the tools and policies to adequately transition its workforce to greater numbers of U.S.-eligible workers.”

“The issues we brought to the table are complex and incredibly important to this administration. The only way that the CNMI and the federal government can achieve our mutual goals is to talk honestly and in as much detail as we can in the spirit of cooperation,” said Torres. “While the 902 process is intended to be long term in nature, I feel like we have made great strides during this round. I thank our federal partners for their openness and partnership, and I thank the people of the CNMI for your understanding of the importance these talks have for our future.”

Some critics have questioned these trips to Hawaii and the nation’s capitol as an added expense, doubting the usefulness of such dialogue, but Demapan yesterday stressed that the 902 talks are a part of the CNMI Covenant that established a relationship with the U.S. and gives them an opportunity for high-level discussion with authorities who need to be informed about issues affecting the landscape of the CNMI economy.

“In terms of expense, for me,” Demapan said, “the grave expense would be just doing nothing, not negotiating at this high level, and watching our economy crumble. We owe it to our people to exert every effort that we safeguard our economy, and safeguard the livelihood of our people that call the Northern Marianas their home. I think that’s what matters at the end of the day.”

The second round of talks occurred from Aug 10 to Aug. 11 last week and was led by assistant secretary of Interior for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina, on the federal government’s side.

She was accompanied by assistant secretary of Homeland Security and Border, Immigration and Trade Policy Seth Stodder and deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Basing Peter J. Potochney, who is also performing the duties of assistant secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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