U.S. Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said Friday it is important to come to an agreement “at home” on what the CNMI’s contract worker needs are as stakeholders differ on whether to pursue a permanent or an extended contract worker program, ahead of formal talks with the White House on the issue and a potential push of legislation through U.S. Congress.
Sablan also said it is important that consultation with the White House is successful, “ so that we have the backing of the President” in changes proposed to Congress for the CW program.
Top business leaders advising the government on economic policy on Tuesday voted to recommend that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres pursue a permanent program of some 18,000 workers to meet the project development needs of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. A “great majority” of the Strategic Economic Development Council had voted to make this recommendation based on the “future number of operating, staff required” for the islands development plans, SEDC chair Bob Jones had told Saipan Tribune Thursday.
Some government officials, though, believe a request for about 15,000 workers for an extension of 10 years would be more feasible.
Sablan, for his part, said he would not second-guess whether Torres should accept the recommendation or not. The governor has already included the CW program on his agenda for 902 consultations with the U.S. President’s special representative, he said, and he is sure that Torres would consider the council’s recommendation, along with what he has agreed to with the Legislature and what he thinks best for the long-term interest for the islands.
Torres’ team, through the NMI covenant, is expected to take lead of these talks and push for an agreement with the White House on a worker program package moving forward. If talks are successful, then that would shift responsibility to Sablan for legislative action.
“In preparation for that time, or in case no agreement is reached in 902,” Sablan said,” I have been holding listening sessions here at home to be sure I understand all the reasons for and against extending the CW Program beyond 2019, and, if it is extended, for how long and how many workers would be needed.” Sablan has already met with both houses of the Legislature, members of SEDC, Torres, and plans to meet with Torres again, U.S. and CW workers, businesses, and nonprofit groups.
“The questions we need to answer about the future of the Commonwealth are not easy,” Sablan said. “So far, I do not hear any complete agreement among the groups I have been listening to.”
Even if we do reach agreement among ourselves here in the Marianas, I tell everyone, getting Congress to extend the CW program will not be easy,” he added. “…Changing CW, which was originally supposed to be temporary and transitional, to be permanent instead—that would be even more difficult.” Sablan says he bases this “on experience” with pushing immigration issues in Congress for the last eight years, including “already getting the program extended for five years” in Public Law 113-235 in 2014.