More Vacation for Loser U.S. Congress

September 22, 2014

The shameless 113th U.S. Congress has given itself 54 more days of vacation after having enjoyed a full 5 weeks off for a "summer recess."  The members returned to Washington DC for 8 days of work and now they'll be on vacation again until after the elections.

That's right folks –the members who appear to be adverse to doing anything but spending time in their districts working on their own re-elections, have walked out of Washington leaving dozens of important issues unresolved.

The salaries of these unproductive, self-serving politicians need to be re-visited.

It is sickening that most middle class workers cannot even afford a vacation, yet these clueless politicians arrogantly reward themselves with more vacation time.

The American people resent the despicable behavior of the 113th Congress. I predict the lowest turnout ever at the upcoming November elections.

Thanks to the stupidity of the Supreme Court, corporations own Congress. The people are voiceless. Americans are question, why vote? Indeed.

The CNMI's Nonresidents' Immigration Progress: One step forward, two steps backward

September 15, 2014

Will a permanent immigration status ever be granted to the nonresident workers in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)?

A vast majority of the nonresident workers have lived and worked in the CNMI for over five years, many for most of their adult lives. They literally built the CNMI. They keep the economy strong, yet they remain disenfranchised with uncertain futures and no pathway to citizenship.

Of all of the categories of immigrants in the U.S. immigration reform debate, perhaps the most deserving of a pathway to citizenship must be the CNMI's legal, long term nonresidents. After decades of appeals, hearings, petitions, demonstrations, congressional testimony and political debates the CNMI's legal, long term nonresidents are not any closer to justice than they were when their plight was first exposed in the early 1990's.

The U.S. Congress does not function. President Obama has reneged on his promise to take executive action on immigration by the summer. Sadly, over the years the two steps forward, one step backward march to justice for the CNMI's legal nonresidents has become one step forward, two steps backward.

Members of Congress recognize U.S. citizens who pay taxes, but cannot vote (as they should), but do not recognize non-citizens who have paid taxes for decades and cannot become citizens (as they should).

At a time when most middle class Americans cannot afford a vacation, members of the U.S. Congress add more vacation days to their calendar each year.  During the ridiculously long summer recess many members of Congress have revived the junkets made famous by Jack Abramoff and his cronies.  Indeed, seven influential Republican members of the dysfunctional U.S. Congress and others (wives? staff?) used a U.S. military plane to take a summer junket to the Pacific. CNMI Delegate Gregorio Sablan, considered a Democrat in Washington, DC and an Independent in the CNMI,  joined  the Republicans congressmen on the junket.

The congressmen made stops in Australia, New Zealand and Saipan on the taxpayer funded trip.

From Delegate Sablan's website

During the visit to the CNMI, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), Chair of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee discussed the scheduling of H.R. 4296, the bill introduced by Delegate Sablan that would continue the CNMI's E-2C visa program and extend the exemption from accepting asylum applications until 2019 among other provisions.

Since 2009, the CNMI has enjoyed a visa waiver program with both China and Russia, two countries known for their human rights violations. Politicians and business leaders want to keep the tourist dollars that result in . If the bill does not pass, asylum applications will be accepted in the CNMI after January 1, 2015.

From The Saipan Tribune:
The CNMI is concerned that allowing the law’s provision on asylum to apply as scheduled would open the floodgates for asylum seekers coming here as tourists, including under a U.S. visa waiver program that could also potentially derail the parole program for Chinese and Russian tourists, among other things. 
An equally serious concern is catching the ire of the Chinese government, which could pull the plug on airlines servicing the China-CNMI route and could hurt the islands’ tourism numbers. 
In the past, most applicants for refugee protection and asylum, for example, were from China. They claimed they would be persecuted or killed for political reasons if they are sent back to China. 
Tourists from China and Russia can stay in the CNMI for up to 45 days without being required to secure a U.S. visa—a DHS program that has helped boost the islands’ tourism numbers.
Forget human rights. Keep those tourist dollars.

During their stop in the CNMI, the Congressmen were wined and dined by Governor Inos and met with influential members of the CNMI business community.

From the Saipan Tribune:
Hastings said he’s very much aware of the issues involved even before he got to Saipan because his committee has jurisdiction over the bill, and the CNMI’s delegate, Sablan, talks to him on a regular basis. 
“But it is always good to have local people express to you the importance (of the bill). When we hear from people on the ground, that’s a very important step. But I was aware of the issue and our Committee has already acted on that bill so it’s not like we didn’t know about it,” he said. 
Hastings added that the bill’s provision extending the CNMI’s exemption from accepting asylum applications is also “very important to the people here so that will very likely stay in the bill.”
From another article:
A pending bill seeks to extend beyond 2014 the CNMI’s exemption from accepting asylum applications to help protect the now recovering tourism industry. The bill also seeks to extend beyond 2014 both the E2-C investor visa program and the foreign worker program, along with an extension of the CNMI and Guam’s exemption from the national H visa cap. 
Among the CNMI business leaders that got to sit down and talk to the visiting members of Congress were Duty Free Shoppers’ Marian Aldan-Pierce, Joeten Group of Companies’ Norman Tenorio, Triple J’s Robert Jones, McDonald’s Joe Ayuyu, Delta Air Lines’ Chris Concepcion, Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Alex Sablan, Dr. Vicente Aldan, and Delta Management’s Jim Arenovski. 
The governor was also joined by other government officials, including House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), Northern Marianas College President Dr. Sharon Hart, and Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Perry Tenorio.
Of course, the junket goers, like those scandalous junket goers from the 1990's led by the likes of former U.S. Congressional members like Representatives Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Rep. John Dolittle (R-CA), did not meet with any representatives from the island's most populous group, the legal, long term nonresidents, the CNMI's de facto citizens. After all, politically, socially and legally they are considered mere labor units with no voice.

If the truth be told, the legal, long term nonresidents are the most influential group in the Northern Marinas. They determine the fate of the economy. These loyal and skilled workers make up the majority of the private workforce. They are essential in growing the tourist industry, in building and maintaining the infrastructure; in treating patients at the Commonwealth Health Center and are vital employees in all of the CNMI's major businesses and services.

Earlier this year,  members of the U.S. Congress ensured the nonresident workers' poverty and the business owners' prosperity by passing a bill  that would delay the scheduled increase of the CNMI's deplorable federal minimum wage, which is now $5.55. Hypocritically, the Democrats who claim that they support minimum wage increase for U.S. workers joined Republicans in suppressing the minimum wage is the U.S. territory where business owners rule.

Forget justice, keep those legal, long term nonresident workers disenfranchised and working at poverty level wages so the business owners and residents can enjoy the fruits of their labor.

One step forward, two steps backward. Nothing will change until the American people demand change. We need to get the story of the plight of the CNMI's legal nonresidents out to the world. They deserve a pathway to citizenship. That is what I am working on now. Join me in the name of justice and democracy.

Expect Action on Immigration Reform With or Without Congress

August 13, 2014

A Fox News poll revealed that 65% of voters would select immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship over Congress doing nothing. The stand was bipartisan with 76 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents and 56 percent of Republicans agreeing that a pathway to citizenship was better than Congress taking no action at all. Even 49 percent of Tea Party members voters to support a pathway to citizenship over 34 percent who said Congress should do nothing.

Now if only the members of Congress could get the message and act. Right now most are enjoying another long recess to campaign, vacation or take part in a summer junket funded by tax payers.

Meanwhile everyone is waiting for President Obama to take promised executive action on immigration reform since the do nothing Congress continues to do nothing.

A report by American Bridge, a progressive research and communications organization, makes the argument that the president should act now by using executive powers to stop deportations and end the crisis at the borders.

The report provides a timeline of past presidential executive orders, details Republican obstructionist actions and makes the case for President Obama to use executive powers to address immigration reform issues.

Read the report:

MILE CNMI: A Voice for the Voiceless

August 6, 2014

Political voice is essential in any true democracy. The greatest movements in our nation's history sprang forth because of denial of political voice.
The American Revolution, the Abolition Movement, the Women's Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Movement and today's Immigration Rights Movement all sprang forth because of the denial of the democratic principles of equality, freedom, representation and political voice.

That said, the CNMI is probably the most undemocratic place on U.S. soil. Over 10,000 foreign contract workers have been denied a political voice for years and decades. The vast majority have lived and worked legally in the CNMI for over five years; many for ten, 20, 30 or more years. They are de facto citizens.  They are the fuel of the islands' economy who have provided their skills and contributions to the people of the CNMI for most of their adult lives, for decades, for generations now.

Despite their legal longevity as nonresidents in the CNMI, most  have never been granted U.S. immigration status because of laws meant to maintain them as the voiceless, disenfranchised underclass. Unless they have  a U.S. citizen spouse or children who can sponsor them for permanent residency status now or when their children reach age 21, they have little chance of being put on a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

It is therefore, encouraging to see that the children of the nonresident workers are uniting to be a voice for themselves, their parents and the voiceless majority of the CNMI. They have formed a group called MILE (Maximum Impact Leading Excellence) CNMI, which will be meeting with the islands' political candidates, educating young voters and registering voters.

The Marianas Variety reported:
The group, according to the member who declined to be identified, will “promote the common good for a better future for everyone.” 
They want to have a “maximum impact” on the island. 
“We also aim for excellence in helping others in the community.”
Members of the nonprofit met with Governor Eloy Inos and will be meeting with gubernatorial candidate Heinz Hofschneider and his running mate, Senator Ray Yumul next week.

The people of the CNMI would do well to remember that the harder a group is kept down, the more it will advance when finally released.

More power to MILE CNMI!

Executive Order on Immigration Reform Before November Elections

July 26, 2014

President Obama is expected to use executive power on immigration issues before the mid-term elections in November. Reports state that he will provide temporary legal status to millions of undocumented aliens.

Republican leaders have blocked immigration reform legislation from being heard in the House. Speaker John Boehner said that the House will not vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year.

Time reports:
The most aggressive option in this category would be expanding deferred action to anyone who could have gained legal status under the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in June 2013. 
According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, the Senate bill would have covered up to 8 million undocumented immigrants. It is unlikely that Obama goes that far. But even more modest steps could provide relief to a population numbering in the seven figures. 
“You can get to big numbers very quickly,” says Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.
Rep.Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) who met with the President last week was quoted in the Los Angles Times:
"We sat down with the president... and we said to him, 'Mr. President, we want you to be as generous and broad and wise as the Republicans have been small and mean-spirited."
Republicans have served as obstructionists in the immigration debate for years. Most block comprehensive immigration reform for two reasons – to please extreme right-wind conservatives who are against reform (even though polls show the majority of Americans support it) and to block anything that President Obama and the Democrats support.

Adding to the debate has been the recent influx of undocumented children pouring over the borders to flee abusive situations in their Central American. countries.  This is a human rights issue as much as it is an immigration issue. Children should not be deported back to unstable countries to face suffering or death.

I hope President Obama steps up and uses executive orders to do as much as is legally possible. The U.S. Congress has failed to effectively serve the people of the United States for years. It is past time to take action, especially for the legal, longterm nonresidents of the CNMI.

Racist Marianas Descent Corporation Gets $100,000 from CNMI Government

July 22, 2014

CNMI Governor Eloy Inos sat on a controversial
appropriations bill that included awarding the xenophobic Northern Marianas Descent Corp. $100,000. Any appropriations bill not signed into law within 20 days passes. Such a cowardly move.

House Local Bill 18-45 appropriated $1 million in Managaha landing fees. The bulk of the money, $800,000, will be used for land compensation; $100,000 will go to the NMI Museum of History and Culture; and $100,000 will go to the Northern Marianas Descent Corp.

It was Saipan Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro who added an amendment to the bill appropriating $100,000 to the Northern Marianas Descent Corp.

Ogumoro is an outspoken leader of the racist group.

In recent months this group has spearheaded racist political attacks on foreign workers, opposed U.S. immigration bills granting status to the CNMI's legal nonresidents, and opposed allowing citizens not of NMI descent to vote on Article 12 initiatives.

So many questions. What are the funds to be used for? Why should this non-profit receive funding when the CNMI Government owes money to CUC and cannot even properly fund the public schools? What other non-profits are funded by the CNMI Government?

The CNMI Government already funds an Indigenous Affairs Office and a Carolinian Affairs Office. Now it will fund a nonprofit that actually is a politically motivated hate group?

It will be interesting to see what the people think of this sleazy scheme. It is oh so Fitial-ish.

Passing of a Hero

July 17, 2014

Phil Kaplan (second from the right) with members of the 1998
Clinton Administration Task Force and foreign workers who testified
at the 1998 Senate Hearing.
Very sad news. Worker advocate Phil Kaplan passed away Saturday, July 12, 2014 after suffering from renal cancer. Phil was a selfless and generous person who tirelessly supported justice and labor and human rights. He was a friend to every one who crossed his path. He worked for over 20 years as an under-paid lobbyist for the indigent in Washington State before moving to Saipan.

Phil was a devoted advocate for the CNMI's foreign workers. He served as the human rights advocate for the Catholic Diocese of Chalan Kanoa, Saipan in the early 1990s. He assisted dozens of foreign workers on Saipan and Rota.

Many times Phil flew to Rota to support our efforts to help the foreign workers seek justice from abusive employers. On several trips he brought some of the workers back to Saipan so they could seek help from law enforcement officials there. He often paid their legal fees. He provided them with food, found them shelter and watched over them.

In 1994, after months of attacks and threatening phone calls, Phil and an employee of the Governor Tenorio's office hired a body guard to stay with our family. Phil was with our family on the last night we spent in Rota. He brought a turkey and cooked dinner for us and some of our closest Chamorro and Filipino friends. His famous "green sage turkey" recipe was shared many times at our table in Florida when Phil and his beloved wife, Celia visited us.

Phil was Uncle Phil to our children. When we lived on Saipan every weekend he took them bowling, to the beach or to the movies to entertain them. After we moved to Florida, Phil found the bowling lanes and spent afternoons bowling with the kids during every visit.

Phil served as a member of the seven-member team of human rights advocates and attorneys that was contracted by the Clinton Administration in 1998 to investigate and report upon the conditions of the foreign contract workers. After the investigation five foreign workers from Saipan were called upon to testify at a U.S. Senate Hearing. Four of the five individuals were given  asylum in the United States. Phil generously took three of them back to his hometown of Seattle where he and Celia took them under their wings helping them to acclimate, find jobs and start their new lives.

Phil's humility hid the fact that he was truly one of the rare unsung heroes.

I remember Phil for his warmth, genuine kindness and pure heart. One of his most repeated comments was, "Life is good!" Every time I hear that phrase I think of Phil.

We are of course heartbroken by this news, as are many of the workers whose lives he touched. We are grateful to have had such a kind and loving person in our lives. He was an earthly guardian angel to thousands. Rest in peace, dear Phil.

Nani's sketch

What is Justice?

July 6, 2014

From The Saipan Tribune, by Jayson Camacho
What more appropriate time to discuss liberation, justice and freedom than the CNMI's Liberation Day Parade?

An alien worker carried a sign that read, "Alien worker we deserve improved status" on one side of the sign and "Justice" on the other. Improved status and justice have been denied the legal, long term foreign workers for decades. Good for him!

But, apparently the foreign worker who wore shackles and chains while carrying the sign calling for improved status hit some nerves among at least one CNMI politician. U.S. Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan was quoted by The Saipan Tribune as criticizing the man:
Sablan said the depiction is “false” because no one is being forced to remain in the CNMI. He said the depiction would hurt rather than help the cause of long-term foreign workers for an improved immigration status. 
“Every individual here has the right to free expression, that’s protection [provided for by] both the U.S. and NMI Constitutions. I think it’s an appropriate display of a statement that is false. No one in the Northern Mariana Islands—whether you are a United States citizen or a citizen of a third country—are in shackles here. No one here is being forced to remain here, so that was a wrong message,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune. 
Sablan, who ensured that national immigration reform bills would have provisions giving an opportunity for qualified long-term legal aliens to apply for “green card” which is pathway to U.S. citizenship, said it’s “unfortunate” that someone would resort to a misleading and false depiction of nonresidents’ situations in the CNMI. “Not the sign, but the fact that’s he in chain and lock. That doesn’t help. It hurts him rather that it helps him. Just untrue and it doesn’t help to advance the conversation on the matter. Unfortunately, he’s wrong,” the delegate added. 
As for the word “justice” on the placard, Sablan asked, “Justice before the court? Justice for what? No one here is under any restraint to stay here. Everyone is free. They can get up and leave any time they want to.”
I disagree with Sablan. I think the man's depiction is accurate and courageous. Shackles and chains can represent many things. Chained and shackled to a disenfranchised status, for instance. How long have foreigners in the CNMI been chained to the nonresident worker status; been disenfranchised; been denied of basic rights; been forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops to travel to see their own families? Years? Decades?

While no one is "forced" to stay in the CNMI, as the delegate stated, many thousands of the CNMI's legal long term foreign workers have spent their entire adult lives working in the CNMI, positively contributing to the community and bolstering the economy. They stay with the hope that one day the U.S. Congress will do the right thing and they will finally be granted the improved status that they deserve! They stay because they no longer have a "home" to return to! They stay because there are more opportunities for their U.S. citizen children.

The delegate thinks the lock and chains are "just untrue". I think they are spot on!

The delegate also misunderstood the protester's call for "justice":
 He said, "As for the word “justice” on the placard, Sablan asked, “Justice before the court? Justice for what? No one here is under any restraint to stay here. Everyone is free. They can get up and leave any time they want to.”
Justice does not just mean freedom of movement. Justice is a guest worker program with a pathway to citizenship. Justice is having a vote and representation in a land that you have lived more years than in the country where you were born. Justice is being able to travel freely like the "guest" workers in the mainland can –from state to state and to homelands without having to fill out pages of forms or pay fees. Justice is being respected. Justice is being paid a living wage for every hour that one works. Justice is being free from discrimination and xenophobia. Justice is being viewed as a human being rather than as a labor unit. Justice is equality. Justice is having someone ask you what you mean rather than having people interpret what you mean without even having a discussion with you.

As for the man hurting the alien workers' cause or his image. Ridiculous! The only image that may have been further hurt is the image of the CNMI, which is well-known as a place on U.S. soil where foreigners are exploited and treated as disposable commodities.

Ridiculous too is the suggestion that the chains and shackles "don't advance conversation". That representation absolutely is advancing conversation! He got noticed enough for the CNMI's U.S. Delegate to make a lengthy statement to the media.

Congratulations to the courageous protester who obviously got his message across.

Congratulations also to Rita Doca for being named First Princess in the Liberation Day Court!