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Jul 3, 2008

"Don't hold your breath," but would green cards for long-term guest workers be good for the CNMI?

The following conversation was overheard recently at one of the water coolers here at Saipan Middle Road World Headquarters:

He said: "Did you here that Jim Benedetto said that CGWs shouldn't hold their breath hoping to get green cards?"

She said: "Yeah. He's been pretty consistent over the years in saying that workers shouldn't count on the hope that they'll get green cards."

He said: "OK, but let's forget for a minute about whether it's likely that CGWs will eventually be able to apply for green cards. If they were allowed to apply for green cards, would it be good for the CNMI?"

She said: "I guess that depends on who you are. It would be good for you if you were a foreign worker."

He said: "OK, but what if you were a business owner?"

She said: "Wouldn't most business owners prefer the way things were before the federalization law passed?"

He said: "Maybe, but that's not an option anymore. The feds have made it clear that the CNMI will eventually have to phase out its guest worker program and just follow the federal rules. They'll probably extend the phase-out for at least five years after 2014, maybe more. But eventually it will be phased out."

She said: "So what's your point?"

He said: "The only hope in the long term of business owners being able to keep their best CGWs is to give them green cards. Otherwise, they'll eventually have to leave."

She said: "But if you give them green cards, they can go to Guam or Hawaii or California."

He said: "Yeah, but if you don't give them green cards, they'll eventually have to leave unless they can qualify for a visa under U.S. standards, and some people--although I don't know if I trust these particular people--are saying that most CGWs probably can't. If these people are right, then giving CGWs green cards is the only hope under the new law of being able to keep the best long-term employees. If you're an employer, wouldn't you rather have a chance of keeping your long-term workers, even if they suddenly had more bargaining power and you had to pay them more, than not having a chance to keep them?"

She said: "I guess, but I'd probably like the old system even better."

He said: "Like I said, that's not an option. That's why giving CGWs green cards is probably the best option now for employers."

She said: "What about criminals and people like that."

He said: "They wouldn't qualify. You'd have to meet certain standards, and it would only be a one-time thing for workers who have already been here for, say, five years."

She said: "What about from the standpoint of locals? Do we want Filipinos to take control over our islands?"

He said: "Well, for one thing, that could already happen when their U.S. citizen children are old enough to vote. But if you give them green cards, a lot would leave."

She said: "Well, how would it help the locals?"

He said: "It would help the locals if you didn't have all of this cheap labor. The way things have been, pay is too low outside of government if you're a local, and in order to get a job in government, you have to kiss up to whoever's in power. If you changed the system, maybe locals who have left will come home, and maybe a lot of CGWs would leave to find better opportunities stateside. Businesses would have a shot at keeping the CGWs that they want to keep, but they'd have to compete for them just like employers have to do in Guam."

She said: "Well, I don't think it's going to happen. And also, those workers signed a contract and it was always understood that they would have to go home."

He said: "I know. I'm not saying that it's going to happen. Maybe it will and maybe it won't. And I'm not saying that the workers are entitled to get green cards. I'm just saying that if they did get green cards, maybe it would be the best thing for the CNMI, including the locals and the business owners. And maybe if we all recognized that this would be good for all of us, then we could really unite as a community--locals, businesses, CGWs, even the human rights activists--and lobby for it in Washington. And maybe if we all speak with one voice, rather than contradict each other like we usually do, they'll actually take us seriously for a change."

She said: "Well, if you could get the Chamber and Wendy Doromal and Taotao Tano all holding hands and pushing for this in DC, that might make an impression. But it will never happen."

He said: "Maybe it will never happen. But it should happen."


Dreamer said...

If pigs could fly we'd all wear hats. Muslims and Jews would probably eat pork.

Anonymous said...

pork fat rules.

federalization...you ask for it you got it.

Ms. D. said...

This is the key language of the foregoing “conversation.”

He said: "Maybe, but that's not an option anymore. The feds have made it clear that the CNMI will eventually have to phase out its guest worker program and just follow the federal rules. They'll probably extend the phase-out for at least five years after 2014, maybe more. But eventually it will be phased out."

If the intent of Congress to minimize economic disruptions to the CNMI is to be followed, and thus what is best for the CNMI, extensions will be granted until the CNMI no longer needs to depend on an unskilled labor supply greater than its own population can produce -- including by U.S. citizens petitioning their parents for Lawful Permanent Residence (LPR = Green Cards) upon turning 21.

Special, extraordinary LPR (Green Cards) in lieu of the foregoing federally-run CNMI guest worker program would be gravely counter-productive to the best interests of the Commonwealth, as it would do nothing to assure that stable labor supply.

What those who care about the best interests of the CNMI should be focusing on, instead of Green Cards that would help a favored few but not the Commonwealth, would be the terms of that federally-run CNMI guest worker program. Will there be one-year contracts? Two years? Five years? Freely transferrable among employers? Those are the sort of issues we should be discussing and uniting about.

Not Green Cards, which are clearly bad for the CNMI, and unlikely unless and until there is wholesale reform of the entire federal immigration system.

Even though your goal is flawed, nice piece of advocacy, by the way!

“Federalization: You asked for it; you got it.”

Anonymous said...

The transitional guest worker program should be extended, but to do so forever would be counter to what Congress is trying to achieve. The idea that we should keep the guest workers here indefinitely with very limited options until the CNMI no longer needs them ignores Congress' concerns about the guest worker program. Businesses will always say that they "need" guest workers who have limited options and are willing to work at the lowest possible wage, but as long as CNMI businesses have access to that, locals will be priced out of the private sector labor market. Granting green cards will not be pain free, but it will be more fair much better for the CNMI than perpetuating the dynamics that led to this mess in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Ensuring a stable labor supply is an important objective, but not to the exclusion of all others. The harm of relying on a foreign work force with much less power than U.S. citizen workers have far outweighs the good.

Anonymous said...

If they do have a wholesale reform of the U.S. immigration system, they should take care of the CNMI workers before they offer green cards to people who entered the U.S. illegally. IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Commonwealth to China or Korea. For those against issuing greencards to CGW deport them to Siberia. Bad for economy? U can go to hell....

Anonymous said...

The sense of entitlement by some foreign national workers is astonishing.

Yes, when the U.S. finally resolves its problems nationwide is when some special deal might be made.

But even if the transitional program is extended to 20 years, that is not perpetual, because eventually the U.S. citizen children born here will be petitioning their parents.

cactus said...

There are really two different questions, with two different answers.

1. Would it be good for the CNMI if some or all of the current contract workers became permanent CNMI residents? Yes. It would create a stable population base sufficient to keep the place running without all the economic, social, political and moral problems entailed in endless dependence on temporary foreign labor. It would establish the foundation for a future CNMI society free from the rigid class distinctions that now exist.

2. Would it be good for the CNMI if they got green cards -- i.e., federally conferred permanent resident status? No. That would permanently entrench the recipients, and their descendants, in the public mind as invaders who were imposed on the CNMI by the US (with their own connivance), and prevent a truly unified population from ever developing. If you don't believe me, look at Guam -- or Fiji.

A grant of permanent residence is beneficial to the CNMI only if locally conferred.

Anonymous said...

Locally conferred permanent residence would be a good thing, but its value is limited. It still perpetuates the CNMI's reliance on a third world labor force whose bargaining power is limited by the lack of options.

Anonymous said...

Why should the U.S. granting green cards to CGWs be looked upon as an invasion? The U.S. can give green cards to whomever it wants. If it gives green cards to people who crossed the border from Mexico, then those people would also have the right to move to the CNMI. Even before federalization, the CNMI basically had to accept U.S. decisions on who could get green cards and citizenship. People receiving such status from the U.S. have always had the right to live and work in the CNMI, with or without the consent of the local government. If granting green cards would be seen as an imposition on the CNMI, it would be an imposition on the U.S. as well, since they would all have the right to move to the states and other territories. I don't agree with the notion that since the CNMI made the original decision to let these folks in, that they are forever the property of the CNMI government and should never get anything good unless the CNMI government says so. That's not what Cactus is saying, but I've seen many around here who seem to have that attitude. It's an attitude rooted in the need to have a sense of power over the CGWs, and a resentment that the CGWs should ever get any power beyond what the local government chooses to give them. This place is under U.S. sovereignty, and the U.S. has a say in the status people living under the protection of its flag.

Anonymous said...

To a few Nonis back: Maybe some foreign workers do have a wrongheaded sense of entitlement, but that isn't what this post is about. Even if we agree that these workers are not entitled to green cards, the question is whether granting them green cards would be good for the rest of the community. I think the post makes a strong case the granting them green cards would be good for the rest of the community.

cactus said...

"Even before federalization, the CNMI basically had to accept U.S. decisions on who could get green cards and citizenship. People receiving such status from the U.S. have always had the right to live and work in the CNMI, with or without the consent of the local government."

Actually, that's not true. During the Trusteeship, US citizens needed visas to live or work here. They can live and work here now only because the CNMI agreed to it in the Covenant.

Green card holders were not covered by the Covenant. In fact, green card status is one of the "immigration and naturalization laws of the US" laws that the Covenant made inapplicable. They have nevertheless been able to live and work here with (and because of) the consent of the CNMI government.

Anonymous said...

Contract workers, whether they have been here a day or a decade are entitled to the same access to a green card as any other foreign national. Go to the local US embassy in your country and apply for entry. There is a well honed procedure set up. If your INS ducks are in a row you'll be admitted. If not, you won't be.

Why would there be a special way of dealing with these particular contract workers that differs from other workers or other relatives working or living in different countries or in their own homelands? Do you want a special privilege other potential immigrants are not privy to? Why? Because you have been lucky enough to have had a loose and easy entry process to get in to the CNMI, why would that qualify you to bypass the entry laws of the US and get in there without the usual checks and procedures?

The answer is an obvious no; you are no more deserving than any other immigration applicant that wants into America. So go home and start your entry application process today. Good luck!

That would be good for the local community.

Anonymous said...

Actually, there we have granted green cards en masse to aliens who had been admitted to territories that had formerly controlled their own immigration. We did this most recently in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The reason was that local control of immigration had created a difficult situation (some would say a "mess") that was best addressed by granting green cards to the alien guest workers. It worked out well there. The same logic would apply to the CNMI, and even more so.

Ron Hodges said...

The US should grant improved status green cards and a path to citizenship ASAP.

Anonymous said...

Boohoo Ron..federalization you asked for it you got it.

carlos the mackerel said...

Could somebody provide a link or reference for this Virgin Islands incident? I never heard of such a thing. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

here is the link:


enjoy biotch!

Anonymous said...

If your theory is true about green cards then lets give every tom dick harry a green card since it will do good for the global economy.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Saipan Middle Road said...

the last comment was from anonymous and used foul language that an email had to notify the SMR HQ for the usage:

Here it is:

*&^^%$ Tina Sablan and Ed Poop!! Dey made us march for our own death!!

*&^%$#@ (In Filipino)!

Anonymous said...

Carlos the Mackerel: Here's an excerpt from Guestworker Programs: Lessons from the Past and Warnings for the Future by Vernon M. Briggs for the Center for Immigration Studies (March 2004):

The Virgin Islands H-2 Program. In the 1950s, the H-2 program was used on the U.S. Virgin Islands to allow unskilled workers from various neighboring islands to work in the agricultural and tourist industries. By the 1960s, these foreign workers were being employed "for any job" on the Islands. More and more jobs ceased to be temporary so by the end of the 1960s H-2 workers accounted for almost half of the entire workforce. As the cost of living on the Islands is high, citizen workers were reluctant to work for the low wages paid to the H-2 workers, and their unemployment increased dramatically. In the meantime, housing, education, and social conditions worsened and the H-2 program was described as being "the biggest single problem" on the Island.14 As the number of H-2 workers kept increasing, there was even fear that the native-born population might lose political control of their homeland. Efforts were made to stop the children of the H-2 workers from attending public schools but federal courts intervened. As the economy became dependent on H-2 workers a two-tiered labor market developed. Ultimately the program was abandoned in 1975 but most H-2 workers were allowed to adjust their status to become permanent resident aliens because, by this time, they had put down roots in their new land.

Sorry, I forgot how to post links, but this should give you enough to Google it. The Act that gave them green cards was the Virgin Islands Nonimmigrants Alien Adjustment Act.

carlos the mackerel said...

Thanks -- I'll check it out.

KAP said...

It's here if you couldn't track it down.

Thanks for the tip nony. It's a good piece.

Ms. D. said...

So as set forth in my post #3 last Thursday, and in the Statement of Vernon M. Briggs, Jr., Board member, Center for Immigration Studies, Testimony before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate (February 5, 2004) (“Guestworker Programs for Low-Skilled Workers: Lessons from the Past and Warnings for the Future”), helpfully supplied by KAP, special Green Cards for CNMI workers would not be good for the CNMI.

“Federalization: You asked for it; you got it.” © Ms. D. 2008.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid you've missed the point, Ms. D. Giving special green cards in the Virgin Islands to longtime workers from neighboring islands has been judged almost universally to have been a success and the right thing to do, despite some concerns that some had before it was done. You can try to argue that the circumstances are different here (although they are actually earily similar), but you can't cite the Briggs piece as evidence that green cards would be bad for the CNMI. Some in the Virgin Islands had some of the same fears and prejudices that you have, but they were proven wrong.

Ms. D. said...

Where in the Briggs testimony is the U.S. Virgin Islands experience “judged almost universally to have been a success”?

To what specific “fears and prejudices” do your refer? This seems more like a self-interested case of psychological “projection”.

Or eerily similar.

Anonymous said...

Please don't "Miss D point" again. I did not cite the Briggs article to support the point that giving green cards to longterm workers succeeded in the Virgin Islands. That program did in fact succeed, and it is almost universally accepted. I was merely pointing out that you were wrong to cite the Briggs article to support your point that green cards would be bad for the CNMI. There's nothing in that article to support your argument. What the Briggs article eloquently demonstrates, however, is that guest worker programs such as the one in the CNMI have inherent flaws, and lead to precisely the kind of social and economic ills that the CNMI is confronting today. Briggs would therefore argue passionately against the system that you are being paid to defend.

cactus said...

This whole Virgin Islands thing is interesting. We need to pay attention to how other places similarly situated to us deal with the same kinds of issues that we have, so that we can learn from both their successes and their mistakes.

So with that in mind, let me ask anyone who knows: What is the basis for stating that the Virgin Islands program "succeeded?" How is "success" measured in such matters? And what does it mean to say that the program has been "almost universally accepted?" Who has "accepted" it, and why? And who has rejected it, and why (and for that matter, how)? What happened to "prove wrong" the initial opponents of the Virgin Islands green card program?

Let me also ask for clarification of whether the former "mess" in the Virgin Islands was in fact the result of "local control," as originally claimed. The linked article describes the former system as involving H-2 visas, which sounds federal to me. The fact that the feds may have been cleaning up their own "mess" in the Virgin Islands, rather than the islanders' mess, does not necessarily make the precedent irrelevant to us, but it would be helpful to know just how "eerily similar" it all really was.

Ms. D. said...

Briggs would therefore argue passionately against the system that you are being paid to defend.

I am not being paid to defend the federal transitional CNMI guest worker program slated to expire in 2014, 2019, 2024, or 2029, whenever enough local-born children can petition their parents to form a stable workforce.

In fact, to my knowledge DHS has not even made public a hint of what such regulations will contain.

Nor am I being paid to opine how “great” the current CNMI program is, which seems somewhat of a moot point in light of Pub. L. 110-229. (Although as the feds tally the costs of running our program, and consider any arguments to be made in any litigation filings, they may decide to have us continue to operate our labor system pursuant to Pub. L. 15-108 under their management and supervision.)

My views are solely my own. I do note, however, that no one has refuted my points made in post #3 at the top of this thread.

Moreover, the testimony of Mr. Briggs hardly suggests that Green Cards were the “solution” to the various guest worker programs described therein. Far from it.

a day late said...

Did Ms. D. jump into the federalization debate after the President signed the bill?

Anonymous said...

There will never be green cards for these workers. They are on their way out, back to Manila. We do not owe them anything.

a dollar short said...

She seems pretty focused on the Green Card “debate” to me. What's your contribution?

Anonymous said...

Ms. D claims that no one has refuted the points she made in her post #3 against green cards. As best as I can tell, here is the only thing he or she said about green cards being harmful:

Special, extraordinary LPR (Green Cards) in lieu of the foregoing federally-run CNMI guest worker program would be gravely counter-productive to the best interests of the Commonwealth, as it would do nothing to assure that stable labor supply.

For one thing, no one has proposed that green cards be "in lieu of" a guest worker program that is phased out gradually according to the CNMI's needs. Even if it were true that giving green cards to long-term alien workers would do "nothing to assure" a stable labor supply (and I don't agree with that statement), how does that make green cards "gravely counterproductive to the best interests of the Commonwealth"? There's nothing to support that statement.

Giving green cards to long term guest workers can provide a base for the CNMI's labor needs. It would give businesses the only chance they have under the current scenario to keep their best workers. (Sorry, the old system of capitalizing on the foreign workers' lack of options will no longer be accepted by the Feds.) Of course, businesses will have to compete for these workers because they will have more options. Will many leave? Probably, which is why the granting green cards should be supplemented with a prolonged phase-out of the guest worker program. How would these two approaches, taken together, be "gravely counterproductive" to the CNMI's interests? It wouldn't be.

Anonymous said...

Cactus, I encourage you to do your own research on what happened in the Virgin Islands. It's too much for us to do for you on this blog, but I agree that it would be a worthwhile exercise. I believe that you'll find that the results have been almost universally judged to be positive, but we'll let you find that out. The debate there was tinged with some of the same racism that has crept into the debate here; locals even tried to keep the children of their "down island" laborers out of the school system. In the end, though, people came to realize that treating their work force with respect and recognizing their contributions was in everyone's best interests.

You raise a good question as to whether the Feds were cleaning up their own mess or the locals' mess. Although the details of the two cases are different, it's fair to say that both cases involved a mess that was created both by the locals and the feds. It's also fair to say that in each case the system that needed to be cleaned up was a guest worker program was a guest worker program that (a)gave business access to cheaper labor than otherwise would have been available, (b)created a two-tier society, (c) created social issues when the "lower tier" developed strong ties to their new home, (d) kept locals out of the private sector, and essentially emasculated them in a way bubbled over into resentment (which in turn expressed itself in ways that were racist). I think that situation is indeed eerily similar to what the CNMI is facing now.

Anonymous said...

ms. d, whether or not anyone believes that you are merely an objective observer with no ties to this administration (and i do not think that anyone believes that), you supply a point of view that contributes to the debate and is therefore welcomed.

Ms. D. said...

Thank you for acknowledging the value of free speech and civil discourse.

But you need to read slightly more carefully. I never claimed to have “no ties” to the Administration. Almost everyone in this Commonwealth has some ties to our elected leaders. Also to the business commmunity. And in my case, even stronger ties to the CNMI's Foreign National Workers, including a connection to the late Editha YbaƱez, particularly when she bought a domestic airplane ticket (which she didn't use) in Manila.

What I wrote was that I wasn't paid by the Fitial Administration to post my opinions, and that my views were solely my own, not done on behalf of, or at the behest of, anyone else.

The necessity to even address this point reflects one of the primary shortcomings of CNMI journalism, and CNMI society itself -- the degree people feel compelled to “personalize” public discourse.

We attack individuals rather than address ideas, we castigate people's motives and label them. Rather than focusing on the merit of concepts, we prefer to stigmatize the originator of an idea as part of a clique whose ideas are unworthy of any consideration whatsoever.

Those who shout most loudly for “change” and “revolution” are in fact reprising most completely the tactics of their political elders, the very self-same demagoguery that got the objects of their scorn elected!

If each of us would focus on doing the right thing himself, there would be little need to berate others for their own shortcomings or suspected “alliances.”

Anonymous said...

I guess all of that applies when people are "berating" you, Ms. D, rather than during the much more frequent occasions when you personally berate others. Get over yourself.

Anonymous said...

Lets give green cards to all our incoming tourist.

Ms. D. said...

My commentary is focused on issues, not personalities, and hardly rises to the level of berating anyone, though I do plead guilty to occasionally writing “at length.” However, the advice to “get over yourself” might seem more applicable to you. Especially the third definition. :-}

Anonymous said...

I applaud Ms. D for her objectivity and honesty in presenting a clearly defined explanation of this subject matter.

Anonymous said...

Green cards? Lets raise the minimum wage again. Train our local & mainland Americans to fill these jobs. Americans working in America making livable wages. Thats a stable workforce! We should phase out are OCW's, keeping only the most sincere, educated, skilled and motivated people.That is the intention of Federalization. Americans working in America!

Anonymous said...

Green Cards for Iraqi translators who helped the federal government!

Anonymous said...

Afghans working with the US military are given special treatment and are on the list of Green Card preference like the Iraqis and Ameresians.

Anonymous said...

Martians should not be left out. It shows a right wing radical perversion to omit them only because they are green themselves.

Anonymous said...

According to an article in today's Marianas Variety, the DHS fact-finding mission preparatory to drafting the federalization regulations includes an official from the DHS Office of Detention and Removal Operations.

See what your “Unity March” got you? Thank you Dekada Shyster, Ombudsperson, and Mrs. Doromal!

: - )

“Federalization: You asked for it; you got it.”

Anonymous said...

That's right, Ms. D. You call people names and then decry the lack of civility when people give back to you some of the venom that you dish out. Sometimes you forget to change to "anonymous" when you call people names. It's fine to speak your mind and insult people. Many people do it on these blogs. Just don't be such hypocrite about it.

Anonymous said...

Venom? Certainly Steve Woodruff is not so thin-skinned. And no, I am not Ms. D.

Typical of the federalizers. Now they've done their damage, they're trying to cut and run, creating diversionary comments about hypocrisy to distract attention from the stench of their evil deeds and the disastrous consequences of their actions.

Anonymous said...

It's official no guaranteed green cards or road to improve immigration status based on this evenings news.

Anonymous said...

Stench of their evil deeds? You guys are too funny. You defend a system that has raped the CNMI, with the economy tanking long before the federalization law was even proposed. You act as if there were no problems with the status quo. Spare us your sanctimony and bad poetry. And enjoy your Kool-Ade.

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