NAFCON’s New Year’s Resolution for Pnoy: Stop Deportation of 12,000+ Filipinos in CNMI
01 January 2012
Jonna Baldres, Deputy General Secretary
National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON)
The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is located in the western Pacific Ocean. From previous U.S. Census counts, Filipinos have the largest population in CNMI, comprising almost 30 percent of all residents, even surpassing the total number of the native Chamorro people. There are, more or less, 12,000 Filipino workers in CNMI as of late who face struggles with maintaining legal immigration status.
“Most of our ‘kababayans’ (fellow Filipinos) in CNMI were forced out of the Philippines 10 to 30 years ago because of the lack of jobs. They were critical in developing CNMI’s economy and it is now their home and the only home their children have known,” said Rico Foz, National Spokesperson of NAFCON who spoke with some of the Filipino workers in CNMI.
Maria Lourdes Berueco, one of the Filipino workers in CNMI, expressed, “Most of us have lived in CNMI for a very long time with many raising our families here. Many feel anxiety about going back to the Philippines since most don’t have anything or anyone to go back to anymore.”
Labor Export Policy as the Major Culprit
At the root of the problem is the Labor Export Policy (LEP) which intensively sends Filipinos to other countries. The LEP started in 1974 during the time of Marcos. By the 1980s, CNMI had been one of the most practical destinations for Filipinos to find jobs due to large scale CNMI recruitment of Filipinos and with the flight to Saipan only taking four hours from Manila.
“We cannot blame the workers for going to work in CNMI. The Philippine government’s failed Labor Export Policy is to blame. Now, we can see LEP’s drastic effect on our people in CNMI and in thousands of cases throughout the world,” Valen said.
NAFCON identifies and emphasizes national industrialization and genuine land reform — and NOT the LEP — as the ultimate solutions that will address the chronic crisis of joblessness in the Philippines.
NAFCON Calls on Governments to Act on Behalf of CNMI Workers
In relation to the U.S. government, Valen highlighted the migrant workers’ (Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike) value to the economic and social development of CNMI and urged U.S. officials to act on their behalf in recognition of their contributions. “They came in legally, worked hard and brought pride to CNMI and the U.S. They should be given a more permanent status.”
In response to the Philippine Consulate in Saipan’s claim that the Philippine government have no funds to help the CNMI Filipinos with their immigration defense, Valen said, “We call on the Philippine government to invest every necessary resource to resolve the plight of the Filipinos in CNMI. Instead of excessively allocating resources towards its military, debt-servicing and pork barrel programs the government should prioritize all the Filipino migrant workers who contribute the most to the nation’s wealth.”
Valen closed by saying, “NAFCON challenges Pnoy to take up a New Year’s resolution to do all he can to stop the deportation of these Filipinos workers by not only saying ‘Kayo ang boss ko’ but by proving it. President Aquino must heed the call for relief coming from more than 12,000 Filipino migrants in CNMI and the millions of us in the U.S. who support them.”
In 1976, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Covenant establishing CNMI as a U.S. Commonwealth having its own constitution and government.
As a U.S. Commonwealth, the CNMI government had exclusive control over its labor and immigration laws, allowing it to bring in contract guest workers through the enactment of the Nonresident Workers’ Act (NWA) in 1983.
CNMI focused on developing a garment industry in addition to its growing tourism sector in the late 1980s and 1990s. This practice of recruiting overseas contract workers increased its population to nearly 40,000, with the newly immigrated workers permeating every industry.
The NWA, however, paved the way for the CNMI government to allow employers to pay wages lower than those offered in the U.S. mainland, resulting to widespread abuse and exploitation. . As a result, abuse and exploitation became widespread.
In addition, nonresident workers, once under the NWA, were also not allowed to apply for citizenship or residency, even if they had been working in the CNMI for years, or even decades.
Eventually, the CNMI labor laws were superseded by the U.S. Federal minimum wage regulations through the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. Then on November 28, 2009, U.S. immigration law gained jurisdiction over CNMI with the passage of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act (CNRA) enacted the previous year.
With the implementation of the CNRA, the transition period for the “federalization” of CNMI began and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security took over CNMI’s immigration and border controls. The transition is scheduled to end on December 31, 2014.
“Federalization” of CNMI and The Consequences
The phase following the implementation of the federal takeover of CNMI immigration includes the process of converting CNMI-issued entry permits into mere evidence of lawful status called “umbrella permits”, which can no longer be considered as visas. This phase ended on November 27, 2011, when the permits expired.
For the 20,859 overseas contract workers residing in the CNMI (approximate number only as of year 2010, and not including those who did not register to the Ombudsman’s accounting), this would mean “out of status” for most.
Though some can apply for “humanitarian parole” as may be granted by the USCIS on a case to case basis, this will only be applicable for certain individuals — meaning (1) foreign national born in CNMI between January 1, 1974 to January 9, 1978; (2) those who were permanent residents in the CNMI since the CNRA was signed (May 8, 2008); (3) spouse or child of foreign nationals described in numbers 1 or 2; or (4) immediate relative of a U.S. citizen residing in the CNMI from the time the CNRA was signed. These four groups are the subject of a U.S. House Resolution 1466 now pending consideration for discussion in the U.S. Congress.
And there lies the dilemma: The H.R. 1466, even when passed as a law, can only cover a few thousands. According to the Natural Resources committee, H.R. 1466 would affect roughly 5,000 to 7,300 foreign nationals (including Filipinos and other nationalities), only around 24 to 34 percent of all foreign nationals legally residing in the Commonwealth before the signing of the CNRA. Most of the rest have already started facing removal proceedings.