Foreign workers, supporters cry out against deportation
It’s a tenuous time for affected foreign workers who are employed in much needed jobs in Commonwealth, as they stare down impending departure dates from island with their permits expiring, if they haven’t left already.
Crowds of Filipino, Chinese, Korean, and other community groups gathered at the Kilili Beach yesterday, waving signs roadside to the honking of cars and gathering under the pavilions where they aired their concerns and showed solidarity with one another.
Many affected workers want a permanent or improved status for their longtime and legal contributions to the Commonwealth. Some waived signs asking for “humanitarian parole” for those workers who will have to leave because of rejected permits under a CW cap that has been breached. And others say they just want to continue to work, while some just want to be able to stay with their families and children.
Alma Ibay has two children—one turning 5 and the other turning 10 years old this year. She says her common-law husband’s permit also expires in Aug. 8, with her a few days later on Aug. 12.
She says she doesn’t know what’s going to happen to her daughters, who are U.S. citizens.
“It’s very hard for us,” she said, breaking down into tears. “Because you know we have kids affected with this problem. And we cannot leave them! We tell them about our situation but it’s hard for them to understand it’s because they’re still very young.”
Alma Ibay has been on island for 23 years and works in a restaurant in Garapan. But there was “no more space” for her permit, referring to the federal cap on contact workers. Her daughter, Cassandra Fernandez, meanwhile also is worried.
Cassandra joined her mother and broke down in tears when speaking about their predicament. “It’s horrible,” she said. “Because my mom says they are going to the Philippines with my sister but they are leaving me here. They’re going to let me stay with someone so I can continue my school.”
“I cannot accept it. It’s hard, it’s hard,” Ibay said.
Another parent, Chen Aliang, who works in a mom and pop store on island, says he has four kids—16, 12, 8, and 4 years of age—who are all U.S. citizens. His permit expires in August.
Stressing the “safety” of his family, he said, “We waiting [to] get some good news for us. So we can still stay.”
Ana Chan, representing the Chinese Association of Saipan, says they are thankful for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and legislators for their understanding and support. Most or many of the Chinese that have come to Saipan, came more than five or 10 to 30 years ago, she said. And they’ve been satisfied working, having families, and staying on Saipan.
“And we want them to be respected and to be treated fairly. For those that are CW workers in the CNMI, we sincerely ask the federal government to treat us fairly and hopefully” prioritize CW permits “based on the seniority of the years they have been here,” she said,
Chan said the Chinese market now is blooming and the community needs workers to help develop the island. She thinks some 800 in the Chinese community are affected and will be forced to leave. She claims that hundreds have left already “And we have a different story for the families. Leaving Saipan, what are they going to do with the kids and the house and the car?” she said. “We want the federal government to give us a fair chance…a status for us to stay on Saipan.”
One roadside waiver, Rain Baco, believes she is fortunate that her husband’s approved permit allows her to fall under it as CW-2.
“I just got so lucky,” she said. Rain has a daughter and says she’s been here for 11 years. She says affected friends “have no choice” but to leave, as they have no families and are single.
“I just want to show support. I’m here with my nanay and tatay (dad and mom). They are green card holders. They want improved status or “something where we are able to stay,” she said. “Because this our home, for me for almost 11 years, so my life is here.”
Affected contract workers offered salient critiques of a federal government agencies that took over local immigration but did not put in place procedures prioritize or “take care” of long-time workers over thousands of new applicants, a bulk of which have been for construction companies this fiscal year that could have been urged to seek other visa classes.
Shafiqul Islam works in the private sector and has been in the NMI for 20 years. His permit expires in August. And he believes it’s up to Sablan and Torres to “put the things on the table” as to their options. He says his permit was rejected under the breached cap.
“I want to fix this problem. I want them to give us something permanently. Why not, we come here legally. We stay legally. So what’s the problem?”
Islam has an 18-year-old son, and spoke about how workers have drummed up support for improved status “a long time ago,” even before the federal takeover of immigration and the transition worker program.
“We experience the same thing ever year. We are frustrated and upset. Twenty years I am already outside of my country. I stay here 20 years, I pay tax, I work nicely, our company likes us, and suddenly they [close] the door without notice that no CW will be renewed? How is it?
“It’s my number. My seat. My chair,” he said. “Then suddenly, they say, you are removed from your chair. Why? What is the reason?” he said.
“Overnight, can they bring someone and replace my position? They need experience. We are the experience. They say, ‘you are out.’ What? There [are] no rules, no regulations, and no policy? I’ve been longtime here.”
He wants the federal government to show them compassion. “At least give us something to stay. We’ve given our young lives to serve here. If I go back to Bangladesh—and see the political turmoil in Bangladesh—nobody knows me because I am stranger. Here, I know everybody. Everyone says hello. I feel secure with my life”
He calls existing policy and law that forces those with jobs on island to leave “inhuman,” especially U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ notice that workers should leave no longer than 10 days after their permits expire.
“Ten days?” Islam said. “You have 20 years, a family, and 10 days you can…” he said, snapping a finger, “go?”
“Where we are going to ship our family? I having nothing over there,” he said, referring to his home country.
Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) came out to show his support for those who “helped build the CNMI from the ground up.” “[The workers] deserve to be heard. Whether it’s improved status or extension of the [contract worker] program, we need to start somewhere and not just get rid of them. As much as we want the workforce to be a 100-percent U.S. citizens or locals, the reality is it’s not possible. We don’t have that pool. The United States also relies on labor from outside the country. We have to keep that in mind.” The transition worker program expires in 2019.
Local supporter Glen Hunter says he is thankful for the longtime workers and demands that the federal government take care of those who have stayed here legally.
“It’s been six years of federal immigration overview of the CNMI and we have people out here who have worked 18, 20, 30 years that are being told that they are going to have to leave. And that’s unconscionable. It’s disgusting. These are people that if truthfully if nothing is done, if the federal government just sits on this, they are going to be displaced from the CNMI and that’s wrong. That’s wrong anywhere. I’m an American and that’s not what America is about,” he said, while handing out water to supporters.
On the issue of foreign workers in the economy, Hunter believes the last time the federal government let such a large foreign population stay and work for their economy without a true voice was during the days of slavery. “And that should shake the fundamentals of anyone who holds a U.S. passport,” he said.
Oleg Tchernychenko’s permit expires in August and he currently works on geothermal projects on island. He says they are trying to bring affordable energy to the NMI, but “it doesn’t matter what you do because there are some rules and lawyers advise you cannot stay.”
“July 1, 1997 was my first working day on this island,” he said. “I never thought I should ask for some special status” but it “should be recognizable because we are productive members of the economy we have now, where more members, the better.”
“We shoulder gas rates, power rates, food rates, everything. You reduce the population you suffer.” The local utility has not enough customers right now and “you want to cut another 10,000” from the population?
Noting that the Soviet Union suffered millions of deaths in World War II but only lost “17.5” percent of its population, Tchernychenko, who is from Russia, said the CNMI would lose even a larger percentage in the 10,000 workers under the program which by law must be reduced to zero workers by 2019.
“Now we are facing a reduction of population by 25 percent in three years and what can we expect? I call it depopulization, such a policy is applied to foe nations, when one wants to subdue it. But this is a U.S. territory. This is done by the U.S. federal government to a U.S. economy? I just don’t understand it.”
“I don’t want begging. It’s productive to increase population. We have every year around 600 boys and girls graduating [from high school.] In 10 years, it will be 6,000. You want to replace 10,000” workers? How can we run this economy successfully if there are no people? Just let us work. We don’t ask anything. Just let us work, pay taxes, and be productive members of society.”