Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some subcommittee hearing "highlights"

I had my doubts about whether this subcommittee hearing would be a worthwhile endeavor. I feared that it would just be an opportunity for the Fitial Administration to push an agenda that has previously been overcome by the US Congress with passage of P.L. 110-229; and I feared that the US Congress might weaken and let its guard down, giving in to the Fitial Administration, weakening or completing debilitating the promise of P.L. 110-229.

But after watching the hearing on the video, I actually have more confidence in our Congress now. Sure, the representative from South Carolina was somewhat lost, but Kilili was most assuredly not. And having him in the House, participating in the subcommittee hearing meant that there was less cover for Governor Fitial.

Not that Governor Fitial ever tries very hard to disguise his true motives. He wants to keep a permanent subclass of foreign workers without rights available to labor in the CNMI, forever. He makes no bones about it.

Here are some of the features from the hearing.


Asked what he was referring to in his testimony when he said that human costs are being overlooked by Homeland Security Governor Fitial answered:

In implementing P.L. 110-229, DHS wants to start everything from scratch. They want to do it by themselves...We have a division of immigration...Because the anticipated implementation date ...was set originally for June 1, 2009, that particular division was not budgeted after June 1. And...up to now, none of those employees in the immigration division are considered for employment by the DHS...

The Governor wants the committee to look into DHS plans to employ some of our CNMI immigration employees.

That's the human cost Governor Fitial is referring to.

NOT the human cost to foreign workers. NOT the human cost to our principles and morals by maintaining a two-tiered system of labor that depends on a labor pool of workers without rights.

The 50 CNMI immigration workers are the only "human costs" on this Administration's radar screen. Not the 16,000 foreign workers here.

Permanent Residency
There was a telling exchange between Kilili and Fitial that highlights the differences between the men. Not just on foreign workers' rights, but also on federalism and the responsibility of being a public servant.

The law requires that several federal agencies need to be talking together... I agree...this thing, if done in the way as being proposed...would be devastating to the point would cripple our economy... At the same time CNMI government needs to cooperate with federal government ...there are issues, foreign investors, H visa caps, visa wiaver program...Govrenor, I sent you a letter...April 21...asking for specific records and numbers...people living in the Northern Marianas, foreign workers, IRs, immediate relatives of FAS, and would appreciate getting a response...

what would you recommend for FAS IRs, increasing numbers, CNMI permanent residents, investors...(seems to say he's asking for that in his letter, and then here in the subcommittee hearing, he wants the following...)

What about workers who have been in the Northern Marianas for 10 years, we need them for 10 years more...?

(mentions how Kilili and he were both in the third legislature where)...I authored the non-resident workers act. The intent was to bring in foreign workers to develop our economy. I maintain that act is working...Another act by the U.S. preventing that act...

With respect to long-term non-resident workers, there's a place for them. We should allow the present administration of President Obama to come together as national policy for immigrants....

Let me get this straight. We need the workers in the Northern Marianas. We want these people to remain there, but just as workers?

If they come in to work, then they should be allowed to work.

But if they're there 20 years, and we need them for another 20 years, we keep them there just as workers, nothing more, no improved status?

They're supposed to be there as only temporary guest workers. If they happen to be immediate relative, then they should be given due consideration. (something about process)

...I agree they should go through the process...

I don't think we should give citizenship to anybody who comes in and works for long term.

Of course not. Giving citizenship would mean they have rights, which would mean they could lobby for higher wages, better working conditions, or move to the mainland. Uppity foreignors. Who do they think they are? Sweat, blood, and tears on our island and they think they should have human dignity?

Governor Fitial's true colors were so apparent. I could hardly believe that everyone continued to be civil to him. He hardly deserved it. The only thing I can give him credit for in his statement is owning it as his own, and not claiming that the people of the CNMI feel this way.

Because we don't. We want rights respected. We want an end to the two-tiered labor system that gives us a permanent underclass of powerless foreign workers. (Well, at least most of us do, I think.)

On Delay of Implementation of P.L. 110-229.
Fitial was very clear that he wants a "full year" after November 28, 2009 for the delay.

What do you think the federal government will do in that full year that they're not capable of doing in the next six months?

I seriously doubt they can be ready by November 28 to put all the things they plan to install--securing the borders, the six ports they plan to staff, equip, run. That's due in 2010, but I doubt they have the funds. ... They only have $5million and they need $97 million...

I'm sure the federal authorities from DHS dealt with how ready they'll be. For example, Nik Pula said the issue with making reports is difficult because of the lack of data, and he wants a 1 year delay for REPORTING on permanent residency options for foreign workers.

DHS's Mr. Barth testified that they have given priority to being ready. They did NOT ask for more time.

The Administration's position seemed a very lame request. It would be like a Plaintiff asking for a delay because he thought the Defendant wouldn't be ready for trial. Um...that would be up to the Defendant to say... And up to the Federal government/DHS to say, not the Fitial Administration.

On the Visa Waiver issue:
Felix Camacho from Guam was articulate in support of adding Russia and China to the Visa waiver list. Fitial and Kilili both agreed with adding Russia and China to the Visa waiver list. The potential benefit from tourism from these markets is an economic incentive.

P.L. 110-229 puts in a balancing test for the feds to use in setting up the Visa waiver program--economic needs balanced with security concerns.

While there seems little doubt that the economic reason for adding China and Russia to the Visa waiver program is satisfied, the testimony on the security aspect was less compelling.

Felix Camacho just said security issues could be met. Somehow. No plan. Except he did mention that Guam is a remote island,and Chinese could not enter Hawaii or other American desitnations. I'm not sure the real meaning of this arguments. Presumably Chinese security threats in Guam would not be Chinese security threats in the rest of America, and therefore, if Guam is willing to take the risk, then the rest of America should be, too. Never mind the American military in threats to them don't count.

And then there seemed to be some huge "fudging" by Governor Fitial.

In his written testimony, Governor Fitial says that the tourists from China and Russia together comprise approximately 10% of the CNMI tourists. Yet in answer to questions, at one point, he said that China alone provides about 25% of our tourists and Russia, "less". Um.. Hope the Congressmen READ the written statements...

And then there was this bit:
Has the CNMI ever encountered problems with overstays of Chinese and Russian visitors?

Frankly, we did experience, nu, problems of overstays, but they were very, very temporary. We managed to find them and deport them back.

Later, M. Bordallo asks questions to the federal witnesses, including DHS' Richard Barth, and referenced some written testimony where Governor Fitial apparently claims that there have been NO Chinese overstays on visitor permits during the past year, thanks to vigorous efforts with Chinese tour agencies and the use of bonding.

Bordallo asked if DHS had any information about overstays from China in the CNMI, whether it was true that there were NO overstays, and Barth said he had no such information. It seems that Bordallo may be skeptical of this claim, herself.

To borrow a word from Governor Fitial--FRANKLY--I don't believe such a claim.

Furthermore, the problem with Chinese "tourists" entering without visas isn't just that they may overstay. I know of at least 2 Chinese women who were TRAFFICKED into the CNMI on tourist visas. And then there are all our drug lords, and other Chinese crime syndicate operators.

Faleomavaega also got the picture clearly; recognizing that Hawaii, which also relies heavily on tourism, does not grant visa waiver to China and Russian tourists, and in fact, Guam and Saipan get Visa waivers from Taiwan and some other countries that Hawaii doesn't.

We have put all our eggs in one basket--the basket that depends on cheap foreign labor. We need to re-evaluate. We need to diversify our industries, but more importantly, we need to find our true selves and our own economic productivity possibilities. We need to develop our LOCAL labor force to handle a full range of jobs, from service to management (and not just management). We need to recognize that our economic problems pre-date federalization of our immigration--listen to Nik Pula's testimony. In just the first few sentences he paints the grave situation that has been unfolding for at least the past 10 years.

And stop trying to justify an unfair labor system that depends on corrupt immigration practices with our need for a sustaining economy. We can have BOTH--a fair labor system, fair immigration system, and a healthy economy. We just have to start... and WORK at it, make it happen.


wendy said...

Hi Jane

Where did you find this transcript or did you take it from the video? My notes match up but I don't have the exact text!

Saipan Writer said...

I took it from the video.

Anonymous said...

It's Felix Camacho and Nik Pula.

Saipan Writer said...

Of course it's Felix Camacho--OMG. And thanks for the spelling correction. I've adjusted the post.

Anonymous said...

In regards to Chinese,One day this week,(forgot what day)there was a front page article in the PDN about a Chinese contractor that was in problems. H His workers had walked 12 miles to DOL and protest because they had not been getting paid, there was also some other problems, among other things he had reported that many had already left Guam and he had also supplied fraudulent E-tickets. That he had printed up.
These were "H" workers,(although soon there will no longer be any Chinese "H" workers allowed into the US and here) this does not set a good example.

I have much personal experience with Chinese contractors and this is the norm. Usually they keep two sets of payroll records.They also do not pay overtime and work the employees many hours.(not much unlike the Garment factories.)
The workers on the whole do not speak English so usually do not know what is going on until they meet some that have been around for awhile.

Saipan Writer said...

Interesting observations, anon.

There are always different cultural perpsectives on what is allowable and acceptable, and the more different the culture is politically and practically, the more problems there are likely to be in investment, law, and transplanting/immigration.

I personally think cultural diversity is beneficial, but we do need to be vigilant in making sure certain fundamentals are understood and enforced when we have such investment in our islands.