US Senate federalization bill will be redrafted
By Gemma Q. Casas
Variety News Staff
August 17, 2007
U.S. Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary for Insular Affairs David Cohen says he’s been asked by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to redraft S. 1634 and include some of the changes that were suggested during their July 19 hearing.
But Cohen said the controversial provision granting nonimmigrant status to nearly 8,000 migrant workers on the islands will stay despite strong opposition from the Fitial administration.
“This is a unique situation —we’re not going to change that,” he said when asked if the latest version of S. 1634, or the Northern Mariana Islands Covenant Implementation Act, will retain the nonimmigrant provision.
He added that the amended version, which is due to be submitted this month, will not include the nonvoting delegate provision for the Northern Marianas in the U.S. Congress as proposed by a similar bill, H.R. 3079, or the Northern Mariana Islands Immigration, Security and Labor Act.
He said many of the amendments to S.1634 are related to technicalities and clearing ambiguous clauses.
According to Cohen, the federal government recognizes that it has the moral responsibility to ensure that all the migrant workers in the CNMI are given due process and protection.
U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs Chairwoman Donna Christensen, D-U.S. Virgin Islands, told reporters on Wednesday she will only make minor amendments to her bill, H.R. 3079.
“It’s very possible that we will make some technical amendments to maybe clarify some areas. We still have to look at provisions that cause so much concern here, which is the guest workers’ program. We want to make sure that we treat the temporary guest workers fairly and justly and, if we can, at the same time take into consideration the concerns that have been raised,” she said.
As for Fitial’s proposed federalization bill, Christensen said she will review it. “If there’s something in there that can reasonably be placed in our bill, we will give it consideration,” she said.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s version does not include the nonimmigrant status provision.
Cohen said the CNMI will continue to have nonresident workers even if its immigration system is federalized.
He said it’s not true that the CNMI will only be allowed to host migrant workers until 2017.
“If there is a finding that the CNMI guest worker program is needed, it can be extended in five- year increments indefinitely, as many times as necessary,” he said.
Cohen said Christensen and Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, while here, met with some victims of labor abuses through the Federal Labor Ombudsman’s Office.
“They met a young lady from the Philippines who was forced to dance nude and was confined in her barracks,” he said.
The congresswomen also met a Chinese man who was recruited to work as a carpenter but ended up paying his recruiter for a non-existent beautician job on Saipan.
“Now he’s in debt, he’s got no job. He can’t go home,” said Cohen. “They also met a young woman from China who was listed as a singer in her application but she has no singing experience and she didn’t know that that’s what the application said. When she arrived here there was no job after she paid thousands of dollars back home.”
He said all of those cases show the extent of the problems in the local labor and immigration systems.
“Our purpose is not to make the CNMI look bad and we know that there’s a lot of sensitivity in the local administration aboutthe CNMI looking bad in any way,” Cohen said. “We respect that but it’s important for the members of the Congress to know that despite the tremendous progress that the CNMI has made in recent years to improve labor conditions, all the problems are not yet solved.”