Define American: A Megaphone for Those Seeking U.S. Citizenship

October 27, 2014

In 2011 Jose Antonio Vargas, a Filipino Pulitzer Prize winning journalist came out as an undocumented immigrant.  When he was 12 years old he was brought to the United States to be raised by his grandparents in California. Now he is one of the most famous and outspoken undocumented aliens in the U.S.

What I really appreciate about Mr. Vargas is the fact that he courageously stands up for undocumented immigrants and is a voice for millions of undocumented immigrants and especially for the Dreamers. Mr. Vargas has used his story to promote immigration reform. Now he uses his web-site, Define American, to promote the stories of hundreds of undocumented aliens.

How many people in America even know that there are over 10,000 legal aliens in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands who have lived there for over five years, most for over a decade? Not many. 

You, the nonresidents of the CNMI, can let the country and the Obama Administration know your story and your plight by simply sharing your story on the Define American website. The Define American website provides a megaphone for the undocumented aliens and others stuck in the quagmire of the broken immigration system.

I urge you to take this opportunity to get your stories out to the nation, the Obama Administration and the press.  Go  to this page to share your story! I'll be posting there too.

Rumors on Immigration Reform Flying

October 22, 2014

Immigration advocates are waiting to see if President Obama makes good on his promise to take executive action on immigration reform after the upcoming mid-term elections.

While the U.S. Congress has failed in its responsibility to act on this urgent issue, the president is certain to act.

It was revealed that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued a contract proposal for card stock to make as many as 34 million permanent residency cards and immigration work permits over the next five years.

From the Associated Press:
The Associated Press reported earlier in the day the contract proposal suggested that the Obama administration appeared to be preparing for an increase in the number work permit applications form of immigrants living illegally in the country. The U.S. government produces about 3 million work permits and residency identification, known as green cards, annually. The new contract for at least 5 million cards a year would provide the administration with the flexibility to issue far more work permits or green cards even if it chose not to exercise that option. 
"I think those who are trying to read into those specific orders about what the president may decide are a little too cleverly trying to divine what the president's ultimate conclusion might be," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "What I would caution you against is making assumptions about what will be in those announcements based on the procurement practices of the Department of Homeland Security."
Immigration reform must advance with or without the unresponsive U.S. Congress. This issue impacts every American, socially, politically, economically and yes, morally.

More and more Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented aliens as polls indicate. Additionally, an increasing number of local and state law enforcement agencies are refusing to cooperate with federal officials in detaining suspected undocumented aliens.

The L.A. Times reports:
"Emboldened by recent court rulings, more and more counties and cities across the country are refusing to jail inmates extra days to give federal authorities time to deport them."
Previously local and county jails would hold detainees suspected of being undocumented aliens for 48 additional hours to allow  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE ) officials to step in and deport them.  No more. Now there are 225 localities that ignore the ICE detainers or requests to hold inmates. Some stopped the practice because of feared lawsuits and others to provide more space in overflowing jails.

Courts and states have determined that a person's constitutional rights cannot be denied because another agency wants time to investigate.  Colorado passed a law to ignore immigration detainers. California passed a law saying the detainers could be ignored unless an inmate was being held for a serious offense. Still many police departments, including that in Los Angeles adopted policies to ignore the detainers that are considered unconstitutional.

From the L.A. Times:
"In March, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania ruled that states and local law enforcement agencies had no obligation to comply with immigration hold requests because the requests did not amount to the probable cause required by the Constitution to keep someone in jail. Other courts have come to similar conclusions." 
"On Monday, another federal judge in Chicago reaffirmed that local law enforcement agencies should not consider the ICE holds mandatory." 
"In New Mexico, all county jails are no longer honoring immigration holds, said Grace Philips, general counsel for the New Mexico Assn. of Counties."
Meanwhile, Leon Rodriguez, the new head of USCIS spoke at Georgetown University this week saying his agency would be ready for any executive action that President Obama will take after the elections. As many as 11 million undocumented aliens could  be impacted by President Obama's executive order.

What about the legal nonresidents in the CNMI. Will the President consider them? Or will the selfish, self-serving cries of elected officials and influential  business owners be heard over the pleas of the CNMI's legal nonresidents who deserve and have earned  a pathway to citizenship?

Kia'aina's Visit to the CNMI

October 15, 2014

In her recent visit to the CNMI, Esther P. Kia’aina, Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Interior's Insular Affairs, said she will "ensure that the voice of the CNMI people is heard by the federal government in connection with issues that concern the islands’ people."

I hope she will listen to the voice of the disenfranchised nonresident workers, investors and their families. These de facto citizens make up a majority of the private workforce. Certainly their voices should be heard. Will she listen? Did she take the time to speak to them?

I knew Esther in the 1990's when she served as a legislative assistant for Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI). She assisted us with helping a 14-year-old Filipino girl who was hired as a club worker in Saipan and forced to perform sex acts with the club's customers. After the  child testified at a U.S. Senate Hearing in 1998, Senator Akaka and his staff was instrumental in helping her to receive asylum.

Senator Akaka and his staff, including Esther, were very vocal in their outrage of the ill-treatment of the CNMI's foreign contract workers. Trips were taken to the CNMI. Bills calling for permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for the nonresident workers were introduced. Floor speeches were made. Public comments by Senators like Senator Daniel Akaka, representatives like Representative George Miller and others who championed justice for legal, long-term nonresident workers made headlines in the media.

Where are they now? Where are the Senators and Representatives and officials who were so outspoken against the abuses, who were so convinced that the U.S.must do right by these people?

Where does Esther Kia’aina stand? Does she support the self-serving positions of CNMI's elected officials and powerful business owners, the people she took the time to meet with, or does she stand on the side of justice for the long-suffering nonresidents of the CNMI who deserve justice? Should we ask her, or does her silence on the subject say it all?

American Samoa Grants Amnesty to Aliens; CNMI Continues to Treat Them as Labor Units

September 26, 2014

American Samoa granted amnesty to over 4,000 aliens from 24 countries. The aliens included 2,474 foreigners who were registered in an amnesty registration campaign and 1,637 legal foreigners who were waiting for citizenship.

Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga signed the bill. He was quoted:
“The people we are talking about are contributing members of society, in some cases along with their families, who have fallen into circumstances not always of their own making,” Moliga said in a Tuesday letter sent to lawmakers informing them the bill has been signed. 
“We owe them the opportunity to become full-fledged members of the community so they can fully partake in all community affairs and be fully counted for public planning purpose when federal assistance decisions are made arising out of our population count,” he said.
Meanwhile U.S. Delegate Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan has been silent on a bill to grant status to the CNMI's aliens. Instead, he talks only of extending the flawed U.S. CNMI-Only Transitional Immigration Program until 2019. He seeks to extend the E-2 CNMI Investor visa, the exemption from the national limit on H visas and the exemption from U.S. asylum laws – all provisions of H.R. 110-229 that are set expire on December 31, 2014.

Sablan's September 25, 2014 press release stated:
“When the commonwealth government was in charge of immigration, those 261 foreign investors who now hold E-2 CNMI visas were promised they could stay if they put their money into the Northern Marianas economy. I believe we have an obligation to keep that promise, and we certainly cannot afford to see those investments leave our economy. 
“There is opposition here in the Marianas, too, from some who say that Public Law 110-229 and the policies it put in place violated the Covenant and that there should be no extension. These local opponents add to the difficulty of passing a bill in Congress. They make it harder to legislate policies to allow the Northern Mariana Islands economy to rebound from an almost 10-year period of economic decline. They make it harder for us to keep the commonwealth’s promise to 261 foreign investors. They make it harder for us to be sure we have access to temporary construction workers to build over 2,000 hotel rooms commonwealth elected officials have been promised in the coming years.
Extending an insecure status just extends the uncertainty for the affected foreigners. The obligation that should be met, is to grant them upgraded status to them. How long have they contributed to the economy and paid taxes?

The same can be said for the legal, long-term foreign workers. The CNMI should feel obligated to grant them permanent residency status too.

This month USCIS set the limit of alien workers at 13,999 for fiscal year 2015 stating:
DOL found that the majority of the CNMI’s current labor supply is provided by foreign workers. DOL indicated that the studies unanimously concluded that restrictions on the foreign labor supply will exacerbate the CNMI’s current economic problems and restrain current economic growth. In examining the unemployment rate, the labor force, and the number of jobs available in the CNMI, DOL also determined that even if all the U.S. workers in the labor force were employed, a significant number of jobs would still need to be filled by foreign workers.  On the need for foreign workers to fill specific industry jobs, CNMI government officials reported to DOL that legitimate businesses in the CNMI have difficulty finding qualified applicants for skilled jobs who are U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. DOL thus concluded that there are an insufficient number of U.S. workers available to meet CNMI’s businesses’ current needs, and that a five-year extension of the CW-1 program is warranted. 
For the aforementioned reasons, DHS recognizes that any numerical limitation must account for the fact that the CNMI economy continues to be based on a workforce comprised primarily of foreign workers. Therefore, any new fiscal year numerical limit must allow for economic growth until the end of the transitional worker program, which is now December 31, 2019.
The business owners and haters in the CNMI want to benefit and take, take, take from the foreign investors and the foreign workers by keeping them perpetually disenfranchised, voiceless and under their thumbs. This has been their attitude for decades. They will not change their attitude because they do not have to. The system allows them to fill their pockets at the expense of the sacrificing legal nonresidents. Their brazen greed knows no bounds.

Only the U.S. Congress can take action to stop this shame on U.S. soil. Unfortunately it too is self-serving, devoid of compassion and lacking a sense of justice.

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!