Monday, November 16, 2009

Petition for 'green cards' begins

Petition for 'green cards' begins

Ahead of federal decision on immigration status of guest workers

Monday, November 16, 2009
By Haidee V. Eugenio

A petition seeking “green cards” or lawful permanent resident status for foreign workers and others with relatives who are U.S. or Freely Associated States citizens has started circulating 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.

The Coalition of United Workers-NMI started circulating the petition on Nov. 9 but temporarily halted it to prioritize the issue of securing umbrella permits for “overstayers,” its president, Rene Reyes, said yesterday.

Reyes said they will resume the signature drive later this week.

Florida-based human rights activist and former Rota teacher Wendy Doromal started the online petition on Saturday, and expects to gather at least 5,000 signatures by January 2010.

“This is our last major push before the May 10, 2010, recommendation from the secretary of Interior to Congress regarding granting United States citizenship or some other permanent legal status to the nonresidents,” Doromal told Saipan Tribune when asked for comment.

The petition is addressed to President Obama, members of the U.S. Congress, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

As of 4pm Sunday, the online petition has gathered 69 signatures.

Ronnie Doca, board chairman of the United Workers Movement-NMI, said yesterday they will begin the signature drive on Tuesday, 6pm, at the Fiesta Pilipino by Juvy restaurant across the road from Saipan Grand Hotel in Susupe.

Doromal and the two organizations of foreign workers in the CNMI are using the same petition form.

CNRA requirement

The federal government will take over CNMI immigration on Nov. 28 pursuant to Public Law 110-229 or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act, signed by President George W. Bush on May 8, 2008.

The CNRA requires the Interior secretary, in consultation with the Homeland Security secretary and the governor of the CNMI, to recommend to the U.S. Congress, as the secretary deems appropriate, a permanent immigration status to guest workers legally residing in the CNMI, by May 10, 2010.

Also included in the Interior's report are the numbers of aliens residing in the CNMI, a description of their legal status under federal law, the number of years each alien has been residing in the CNMI, and the current and future requirements of the local economy for an alien workforce.

Improved status

Over the last three years, Doromal has hand-delivered petitions and letters to the U.S. Congress and offices in Washington, D.C., seeking improved status for many in the CNMI.

The quest for improved immigration status, as the petition reads, is for foreign contract workers, CNMI permanent residents and their nonresident spouses, FAS citizens and their nonresident spouses and family members, nonresidents who are married to U.S. citizens, widows and widowers of U.S. citizens, U.S. citizen children of nonresidents, foreign-born children of U.S. citizens and nonresidents, and parents of disabled and special needs U.S. citizen children.

The FAS includes Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae).

Doromal said she and her daughter Nani will personally deliver written letters and the written petition that is circulating in the CNMI to Congress and offices in Washington, D.C. at the end of January after Congress is back in session.

“I will submit the online petition when we reach or surpass our goal,” she added.

Doromal said she has notified friends at non-profit organizations that support human rights, social justice, and immigration reform to appeal for nationwide support.

“Some of my friends are writing stories to post on major progressive Web sites, and we are creating a Facebook page. I am also reaching out to the media to appeal for support,” she added.

Pathway to US citizenship

Doromal said some people mistakenly assume that it is only the nonresidents who support status for the residents of the CNMI.

“This is not true. Millions of Americans believe that all guest worker programs should provide a pathway to citizenship. I put the petition online so that people from across the United States can sign it. The U.S. officials that the petition seeks to influence will see that the support comes not just from the people in the CNMI, but from coast to coast across our nation. The petition has only been up for about five hours and we have people signing from not just the CNMI, but from Florida, Virginia, Georgia, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas, California, Oregon, and Connecticut,” she said.

The online petition is posted on Doromal's blog, “Unheard No More,” at http://unheardnomore.blogspot.com.

“We support the nonresidents of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in their quest for green cards and a pathway to citizenship as expressed in this petition. We appeal to you to take immediate action to secure their standing and to keep their families together,” the petition's introductory paragraph reads.

The federalization law establishes a goal of phasing out the CNMI guest worker program and requires a report from the Department of the Interior as to the number of guest workers in the CNMI, and recommendations for status, if any.

“There is no assurance that there will be recommendations for status, nor any assurance that status would be granted through subsequent legislation even if such recommendations were made. We appeal to you today to support the introduction of legislation that would grant green cards and a pathway to citizenship to long-term foreign workers and nonresidents,” the petitioners say.

Majority of foreign workers-now only at a little over 10,000-have been in the CNMI for more

“Many of us have children who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. We are valuable workers and law-abiding, contributing members of our island home. We call upon you to provide protection and equal rights to those of us who have dedicated our lives to building and developing this great U.S. commonwealth,” the petition reads.

In 2000, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation that would have provided these segments of the CNMI population with immigration status.

However, a provision for U.S. status did not make it into the final version of the bill that would become part of Public Law 110-229 or the CNRA.

“While we understand that permanent status and a pathway to citizenship for us in the CNMI may be included in future national comprehensive immigration reform legislation, we plead with you not to wait,” it adds.

The petition cited a precedent for such a relief. In the 1980s, the Virgin Islands and the U.S. Congress realized that special legislation was needed to prevent the separation of guest workers from their U.S. citizen families. Congress passed a law allowing guest workers in the Virgin Islands to adjust to permanent residency status.

“Congress should pass a similar law tailored to the unique needs of the CNMI,” the petitioners say.

Doromal said foreigners invited to U.S. shores to work and build the economy “should be regarded as future citizens rather than replaceable commodities.”

“Those who support a just and democratic guest worker program in the CNMI and in the mainland, support opportunities where foreign workers and immigrants have control over their destiny and the destiny of their families. They embrace the words of President Barack Obama: 'In America, no dream is beyond your grasp if you reach for it, and fight for it, and work for it,'” she added.

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