For Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), the passage of comprehensive immigration reform is a foregone conclusion in the United States and the Republican Party will have to compromise one way or another if they ever hope to see another GOP presidency.
“It’s not a question of if it’s going to happen; it’s a question of when. If Speaker [John] Boehner were to put S. 744 on the floor right now it will pass. Comprehensive immigration reform changes the immigration laws of the U.S. and that change will be progressive and liberal. …If comprehensive immigration reform should come to the floor right now it will pass, go to the President, and he will sign it,” he told reporters last week at his office in Susupe.
Sablan said this is a foregone conclusion if the Republicans want to take the White House.
“Republicans can kiss the White House goodbye for the next 16 years. Don’t forget, everyday 2,000 Latinos are turning 18—just Latinos alone—and with comprehensive immigration reform it involves Asians, Europeans, and other people.”
Legalizing about 12 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has united every spectrum of the country’s society.
“Comprehensive immigration reform has brought together law enforcement, the business community, evangelicals, even [conservative talk show host] Bill O’Reilly supports comprehensive immigration reform. The GOP establishment supports comprehensive immigration reform, the American Chamber of Commerce completely, labor, the faith community—from Muslims, to Roman Catholics, to all kinds of Christians—support comprehensive immigration reform. It is just a handful of Republicans from these red districts that couldn’t care less what happens,” said Sablan.
The CNMI delegate also clarified that even if comprehensive immigration reform is to pass, no one is going to get anything automatic. This also applies to the CNMI’s legal long-term nonresident workers.
“You have to apply and if there’s any reason there for you to be ineligible, you won’t get it. The Marianas language will be a very conservative piece of that legislation. But those who disagree with me have their facts flipped and say something entirely different from what the Marianas language does. They have to read the entire bill. The Marianas language has taken this huge program, this huge open door, and reduced it to something that fits this small community. Supposedly, say, we have 11,000 third-country nationals here, under the Marianas language much less will become eligible for that. This is a policy matter and not a political matter.”
Sablan also hit back at critics who oppose the CW program, which Labor Secretary Thomas Perez extended for another five years earlier this month.
“Where do you train a physician and engineer for three years? Will you go and see a doctor that has been trained for only three years? It’s obvious when they make these kinds of statements, they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. It just serves political purposes. This is not a political issue; this is a matter of policy that is good for the Northern Marianas and is good for the nation.”
‘No time soon’
Former Rota teacher and activist Wendy Doromal, who is now based in Florida, said that Sablan may be correct that comprehensive immigration reform will pass if put to a House vote now.
“I talked to a Senate staffer Thursday. I asked if there was hope for the workers to get permanent residency and he said no time soon. Delegate Sablan may be correct that an immigration bill would pass if it were put on the floor, but the Republican leadership is not about to let that happen. They are obstructionists. As far as his remark that they won’t take back the White House if they do not support immigration reform, that may or may not be the deciding factor in the next election.”
She said the only hope right now for CNMI nonresident workers would be for Sablan or another member of Congress to push a standalone legislation to grant the CNMI legal, long-term (five or more years) nonresident workers permanent residency status.
“That should have been the action taken, rather than pushing the five-year extension. Congress never acted on the recommendations of the 2010 Department of the Interior report that was mandated under the [Consolidated Natural Resources Act]. CNMI leaders pushed for a five-year extension of a flawed program instead of long-deserved freedom and untethered status for the CNMI nonresidents and a secure and stable workforce,” said Doromal.
“Over and over we have seen CNMI-only bills pass. Even Congressman Miller, a huge supporter of raising the federal minimum wage, made a floor speech in favor of delaying the CNMI minimum wage increase. If asked, I am certain he would do the same for a standalone CNMI-only bill to grant permanent residency status to the CNMI’s legal, long-term nonresidents. The CNRA could be amended to include a status provision. Bills have already been introduced that would extend exemptions for amnesty and nonresident investors. Every major national poll shows that the majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented aliens. What more for legal, long-term aliens! A standalone bill is the way to go,” she added.
Old problem with easy fix
Kelvin Rodeo, an alumnus of Marianas High School who runs a social media page dedicated to helping nonresidents get improved status, said all of these long-term nonresident workers in the CNMI absolutely deserve improved status.
“I find myself in disbelief whenever someone disagrees with that, considering the history of these foreign workers on our islands and their countless contributions to our community. If one reads the text of Public Law 03-66 (alien worker program), one can clearly see that the language used in that law set up what would become a system of indentured servitude, the very system that we have today. From the very beginning, it was clear to see that the people who drafted that law wanted to set up an exploitable voiceless working class, with a section stating that none of the time they spend in the CNMI will count toward any form of permanent residency or citizenship.”
Rodeo said that improved status for long-term nonresident workers in the CNMI should’ve been dealt with years ago.
“These people could have had their situation taken cared of way back in the 1990s, but our government and the businesses enjoying the fruits of the exploited laborers prevented that from happening. Instead of doing the right thing, our very own elected officials took it upon themselves to work toward prolonging such an evil system.”
Rodeo is disappointed in the recent decision to extend the CW program by another five years.
“The simple truth is, the quickest and most efficient solution for this so-called problem (which could have been avoided a long time ago if we had been doing the right thing all along) would be for the government of the CNMI to take on an official stance of advocating for U.S. permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for all of our long-term nonresident workers currently in the CNMI. Turn all of our long-term nonresident workers into U.S. permanent residents with a pathway to U.S. citizenship, and our little local hiring problem will be taken care of. But, the sad truth is, our elected officials will never do that.”