Fitial, workers welcome ruling
Friday, November 27, 2009
Federal takeover excludes labor-for now
By Haidee V. Eugenio
The federal government will only be able to implement border control at the stroke of midnight on Nov. 28, but not the existing CNMI labor program, at least for now.
This is because of a federal judge's order dated Nov. 25 preventing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from implementing in its current form the interim final rule on the CNMI transitional worker program, which takes effect on Saturday.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and the United Workers Movement-NMI separately welcomed yesterday U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Paul L. Friedman's ruling granting the CNMI government's motion for a preliminary injunction preventing DHS from implementing its CNMI transitional worker (CW) classification rule.
“I am very pleased with this favorable decision by Judge Friedman. The interim final rule fails to comply with Public Law 110-229 and will be very damaging to the Commonwealth if it goes into effect in its present form,” Fitial said in a statement yesterday.
Fitial, who turns 64 today, sued the federal government over federalization.
He urged DHS to consider the over 100 comments that have so far been filed on its transitional worker program rule.
In an interview with Saipan Tribune on Wednesday, Fitial reiterated that a federal takeover of local labor is “unnecessary.”
“We don't have any problem having the federal government take over immigration. Let them control our border because we don't have the capabilities to do that, but we have a strong enforcement mechanism to control our labor. Why do they have to remove labor from us? It doesn't make sense and we're the only one. All the other [U.S.] territories, they control their own labor,” he said.
Ronnie Doca and Rabby Syed, leaders of the workers group, hope that latest court ruling will give DHS more time to consider their concerns.
Workers groups in the CNMI want the federal government to grant “green cards” or legal permanent resident status to certain classes of nonresidents in the CNMI, including long-term foreign workers.
“We are happy with the ruling so DHS will have more time to look into our concerns. Among the most important things we are asking [for] is a better immigration for long-time nonresident workers, and a blanket authority for those with valid CNMI permits to re-enter the CNMI after a vacation or emergency exit,” said Doca, board chairman of the group, which comprises thousands of foreign workers in the CNMI.
Worker groups have started a signature campaign asking President Obama and the U.S. Congress to grant “green cards” to certain foreigners in the CNMI, ahead of the May 10, 2010, deadline for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to recommend to Congress whether a grant of permanent immigration status to nonresidents in the CNMI is necessary.
DHS' interim final rule, which is supposed to take effect Saturday, prohibits foreign workers from re-entering the islands using only their valid CNMI work and entry permit.
Friedman said DHS could “promulgate a narrowly focused and temporary emergency regulation” that addresses only the “exit and entry” problems presented in the department's interim final rule.
Regulations by DHS' U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would have required foreign workers to secure a CW-1 visa from a U.S. embassy for them to re-enter the CNMI, but only after they first secure a CNMI-only transitional worker status, which may take up to 60 days to acquire.
This means foreign workers can exit but not re-enter the CNMI up to at least early 2010, in order to secure a CW status and a CW-1 visa to comply with the DHS interim final rule.
DHS, however, repeatedly said that nonresident workers can exit the CNMI any time during the transition period from Nov. 28, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2014, but they cannot re-enter the islands without a CW-1 visa obtained from a U.S. embassy.
There is also a possibility that an applicant may be denied a CW-1 visa and therefore won't be able to re-enter the CNMI and continue working on the islands despite possessing a valid CNMI work and entry permit.
The Form I-29CW is a modified form of the Form I-29, but it is specifically used for the Commonwealth-only Transitional Worker, or CW, program.
A “transitional worker” under P.L. 110-229 is defined as an alien worker who is currently ineligible for another classification under the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act and who performs services or labor for an employer in the CNMI.
Most of the foreign workers in the CNMI are from the Philippines and China, while others are from Korea, Thailand and Bangladesh.
Florida-based human rights activist and former Rota teacher Wendy Doromal expressed hope that the comments so far submitted on the DHS interim final rule “should now be considered by DHS.”
Many relate to travel restrictions and the requirement for a visa for a foreign worker to return to the CNMI after traveling for personal or medical reasons.
Friedman agreed with the CNMI that DHS had no reasonable basis for publishing the interim final rule without complying with the notice and comment provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act.
The judge also made clear that he was denying any possible effort by the U.S. Department of Justice representing DHS to obtain a stay of his order pending appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.
The DHS transitional worker rule is supposed to take effect Saturday, when DHS' U.S. Customs and Border Protection takes over border control.
Edward H. Low, public affairs liaison at CBP's San Francisco office, earlier said that between 40 and 50 CBP officers will be on Saipan to take over immigration control at the Saipan International Airport at the stroke of midnight on Nov. 28.
But as of press time yesterday, Low said he's still checking to see what, if any, impact the court ruling will have on CBP operations.
Among other things, the federal takeover of local immigration means U.S. visas will be required of foreigners to enter the CNMI, just like Guam, Hawaii, and the rest of the United States, except for nationals of countries that are included in visa waiver programs.
The CNMI is the last U.S. territory that controls its own borders.
Fingerprinting and eye scan will also become main fixtures at the airport, just like anywhere in the U.S.
P.L. 110-229 or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, signed by President George Bush in May 2008, not only applies federal immigration control in the CNMI but also gave the CNMI its first non-voting delegate to the U.S. Congress.
As a result of the federalization law, the CNMI held its first delegate election in November 2008, won by Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan, a former executive director of the Commonwealth Election Commission.