Bordallo seeking permanent solution to Guam’s labor problem
HAGÅTÑA — While seeking immediate relief for Guam’s acute labor shortage, U.S. Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo said she is preparing a proposal that would provide a permanent solution to the island’s recurring manpower deficit.
“I will introduce legislation to carve out a unique immigration program for Guam, to provide a long-term solution to our labor needs,” Bordallo said in her congressional address on Wednesday. “This is a long-term goal because it would need to be part of any comprehensive immigration reform that may be revisited by Congress.”
Without elaborating on the details, Bordallo said her pending legislation would “address the labor deficiencies that are affecting industries outside of the military, including civilian construction and maintenance, health care and hospitality.”
She admits her yet-to-be introduced legislation would again face rough sailing in the Republican-controlled Congress especially with President Donald Trump’s “Buy American Hire American” policy.
“This will not be easy and will require additional information and data that backs up our arguments,” Bordallo said. “We must craft an argument that demonstrates Guam’s unique needs and this requires continued education and advocacy in Washington.”
Last week, Gov. Eddie Calvo said he was withdrawing Guam’s support for the military buildup, in protest over the federal government’s clampdown on the issuance of H-2B visas.
Several construction projects on Guam are currently on hold due to a lack of workers to fill the jobs.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services has stopped renewing H-2B visas and been rejecting new applications since January last year even though Guam is exempted from the national H-2B visa caps in consideration of the military buildup.
“The nearly 100 percent denial rate of H-2B visas has slammed the breaks on progress at every level in our community and like a mad driver in rush hour traffic. Believe me when I say I want to resolve this faster than anyone can imagine,” Bordallo said.
Hundreds of construction workers, nurses and other H-2B visa holders were sent home by their employers last year. Most of them are from the Philippines and China. From more than 1,000 foreign workers on Guam, the number is now down to 178.
“Looking at the long-term it is clear that this ordeal requires legislation that would grant our economy more flexibility in reaching a foreign workforce,” Bordallo said.
The Guam delegate said she regularly coordinates with senior officials of the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security to seek a solution to reduce the number of visa application denials.
“Because the Administration made it clear that changes to internal policy guidance would not be a viable option, I worked closely with the Navy and USCIS to develop language that we included in last year’s House defense bill,” Bordallo said.
But due to the political sensitivities on immigration issues, especially during last year’s election year, the Senate Judiciary Committee prevented the language from being included in the final bill, Bordallo said.
Despite the setbacks and challenges besetting the military buildup on Guam, Bordallo said she continued to support the Marine realignment.
“This is even more important because of recent world events and the growing uncertainty in the region. This past weekend’s failed missile test and the escalating rhetoric by North Korea is destabilizing to our security and that of our allies,” Bordallo said.
“I am encouraged that forward progress continues to be made on the realignment. We expect to break ground on the Marine Corps Base later this year, and we are making critical investments in civilian infrastructure that will benefit our local community,” she added.
Bordallo said Guam remains safe and that the United States “will protect Guam from threats that may arise. We are an important part of the American family, and I continue to work with DOD and all our federal partners to keep our island secure.”
As for self-determination, Bordallo said Guam must internally resolve the legal issues pertaining to the plebiscite instead of relying on the federal court to make the final decision.
Last month, the federal court ruled that restricting the self-rule vote to “native inhabitants” was unconstitutional.
“I share Dr. Underwood’s sentiment that the decision was dispiriting and discouraging although not unexpected,” Bordallo said. “Although I have made Guam my home for nearly 70 years, for me personally, I recognize that I would not have been able to vote when our Chamorro people would have exercised that right, but I believe it is appropriate that they do so after so many years of being disenfranchised.”