‘Remind ourselves of where we were 10 years ago’

Torres urges signing of CW-1 petition

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is soliciting the public’s support to extend the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker program beyond 2019 by asking everyone to sign the Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp.’s petition endorsing the extension.

With U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shaving off 3,000 slots from the CW-1 program this fiscal year, the governor immediately rushed to Washington, D.C. last week to seek a reprieve on the CW-1 program.

NMBAC, a collection of businesses, started a petition last Dec. 1, 2017, to solicit community support on efforts to extend the program beyond 2019.

In a statement from the Torres administration, the governor asked the community to “save our economy” by signing the petition.

“Signing this petition represents our community’s collective commitment to ensuring that our livelihoods will not be threatened by federal legislation that needs fixing,” he said.

“We need to have Congress hear our voices together.”

In the same statement, Torres commended the CNMI House of Representatives for unanimously adopting Rep. Angel A. Demapan’s (R-Saipan) House Joint Resolution 20-07, which support the NMBAC and Torres. The Senate has yet to take action on H.J.R. 20-07.

“I look forward to the Senate acting on the joint resolution soon,” said Torres, adding that unanimously adopting H.J.R. 20-07 shows that the “entire government leadership” is in support.

“It’s the right thing to do for the viability of our economy and for every single person who calls these islands home,” he said.

According to Torres, the ultimate goal is for legislation to address the CNMI’s long-term economic needs.

“There is too much at stake, and if we don’t come together now as a community, we risk losing the jobs we have created, the opportunities that have arisen, and any sort of economic growth in the long term,” Torres added.

As for concerns about supporting the CW-1 program, Torres pointed out that access to skilled foreign workers is “not in conflict” with developing the local workforce and reducing unemployment of U.S. citizens in the CNMI.

“It does not take away jobs from our local residents and U.S. citizens,” he said, citing statistics obtained from the CNMI Department of Commerce, which cited 1,800 unemployed U.S. citizens in the CNMI. “With the increased opportunities in our economy, that number will steadily decrease.”

Torres added that even if every single U.S. citizen and local resident were given jobs, including students and the elderly, “we will still not meet the needs of our economy to develop sustainably so that we can address our longstanding debts and obligations and provide more funding to key areas such as public safety, education, and healthcare.”

Torres cited Government Accountability Office reports that concluded that losing the CW-1 program would possibly result in a 62-percent drop in the economy.

“…Our economy increased 28.6 percent in 2016 because small and large businesses have the resources to develop local capacity with the existence of a foreign labor force… [and] we now have more U.S.-eligible workers in our workforce than at any time in our modern economy,” he said.

“It is important now than ever that we remind ourselves where we were a few years ago,” he added, describing the past CNMI economy to be in the “midst of a deep and persistent economic depression.”

“Our tourism industry was struggling with low number of arrivals. Government revenue was at record lows. [We struggled with] high gas prices [and] rolling blackouts,” he said, adding that both large and small businesses were “struggling.”

“What matters most to me is how we had to focus our efforts to help the parents who sit there late into the night shaking their heads, filled with stress over how to pay their bills, to provide enough food on that table to feed the family because back then we had no economy. No one deserves to go through that ever again. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

“To me, the path ahead for our economy will always have its greatest measure in the homes and around the dinner tables of all the families living in our community. This is why we need to make our case to Congress to save our economy and ensure that everyone from our local residents, to our long-term foreign legacy workers, and to everyone who calls these islands home is protected,” he said.

As of 7:30pm last night, the online petition supporting the governor’s efforts has garnered 479 online signatures.

According to NMBAC chair Alex Sablan, their petition has garnered “thousands” of signatures while NMBAC member Viola Alepuyo stated that, as of 6pm last Monday, they have garnered over 3,400 signatures, without adding in signatures obtained from the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Society for Human Resource Management CNMI chapter.

For those interested in supporting the petition, contact Alex Sablan at alex_sablan@tanholdings.com, Velma Palacios at velma.palacios@itehq.net, Gloria Cavanagh at gloria@marianaresort.com, or Josephine Mesta at jmesta@hyattsaipan.com.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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