Friday, January 18, 2008

Hodges' Shameful Distortions

The following letter to the editor from Ron Hodges appears in this Friday, January 18, 2008, edition of the Marianas Variety.

Letter to the editor: Chamberonomics XXX…my comments on P.L. 15-108

P.L. 15-108 is the Northern Marianas Islands equivalent of Adolph Hitler's "final solution." Hitler originally sought to enslave persons of color, predominately Jewish, to provide the Third Reich with a free factory and domestic labor force. When his conquests began to crumble, he ordered implementation of the "final solution," or elimination of undesirables, as though it was his master plan from the beginning.

Big business here wants to save money by not paying back wages or settling labor claims and deport guest workers to P.I. and China without due process. Our business leaders do not want federalization or P.L. 15-108, so we can only assume they want to keep the status quo of servitude. Our guest workers here have not been properly represented. Lawyers refuse to represent them, with few exceptions, due to financial conflicts of interest and the fact our guest workers are poor and unable to pay legal expenses. Our judges and politicians have not represented them properly because guest workers are disenfranchised and do not vote.

How could our community justify enforcing such a program of racism and shame? We must defend U.S. minor citizens from being deported to places where children have half the life expectancy of the U.S . mainland and regularly die from lack of basic medical care. One man has burned himself to death at the Labor Department to heighten awareness of this horrific situation, our community marched against this law in unprecedented numbers, and the two authors of this bill were defeated by primarily indigenous voters, so what else must the people do to stop this law?

"There are unjust laws just as there are unjust men" — MK Gandhi.

The U.S. should improve the status of guest workers here. Some guest workers would vacate the impoverished commonwealth, which would help to alleviate our labor glut and unemployment debacle. This action by the U.S. alone would force big business here to increase their numbers of local employees, which means more jobs for young indigenous residents here. The "chamber" cringes at the thought of bearing this retraining expense, but in my opinion, they can do business here or not. I think hotels here are slave driving organizations that pay third world wages while charging tourists top dollar prices. If that greedy group doesn't want to retrain a young local work force, then good riddance.

When my wife was 12 years old, her brother contracted measles. His conditioned worsened. Lacking adequate medical care, Avilino Villar Jr. died at the tender age of seven years old. Sadly, this was not a newsworthy event in the Philippines, but a daily fact of life. Sending one American citizen child to the third world is depraved indifference to the welfare of a minor. I am asking the U.S. Congress to act and prevent such a disgrace from happening.

RON HODGES
Puerto Rico, Saipan

**************

The following is my response to Hodges which I've sent in to both papers to print.


Letter to the Editor: Hodges' Distortions Are Shameful

H.R. 3079, the federalization bill now pending in the U.S. Senate, does indeed deport every single foreign worker from the Commonwealth. That bill is awaiting action by a Senate that doesn't know much about the Commonwealth and, for that reason, may pass the bill. Let's make this clear – EVERY FOREIGN WORKER IN THE COMMONWEALTH WILL BE DEPORTED WITHIN FIVE YEARS OF PASSAGE OF THE FEDERALIZATION BILL. There are no exceptions. It is possible, as Pete A says, that there will be an extension of another five years. But the Marianas will have no say in that. It is the intent of the federalization bill, and those like Mr. Hodges who support it, to deport every single foreign worker, bar none, from the Marianas.

The new Commonwealth labor law, P.L. 15-108, welcomes foreign workers, as the Commonwealth always has, and improves their working conditions and protections to a standard virtually unmatched anywhere else in the world. Tell me – where in the world do foreign workers get guaranteed medical coverage? Nowhere. And where in the world do foreign workers get bonded protection that their wages will be paid? Nowhere. One could go on and on. Mr. Hodges' comparison to Hitler is despicable!

And let's look at the treatment of minors. Mr. Hodges is once again not only wrong, but so terribly wrong that one has to conclude his efforts are deliberate propaganda to slander the U.S. citizens who are of Chamorro and Carolinian heritage. What do you suppose Mr. Hodges is doing in the classroom? Maybe we need parent monitors in his classroom to be sure nothing like this unfounded hateful propaganda is going on there.

Here's the deal. Under H.R. 3079, the federalization law, when all foreign workers are deported, all U.S. citizen children will likely go with them unless they have U.S. citizen or permanent relative residents in the U.S. somewhere. Under U.S. law, when a foreign worker is forced to leave, he or she may petition the U.S. immigration officials for what they call "cancellation of removal" but the foreign worker will have to show "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to their U.S. citizen son or daughter. It is very difficult to meet this standard. (See, for example, the decision in In re Ariadna Gonzalez Recinas, et al., Respondent, file A75 696 573 (Los Angeles) decided Sept. 19, 2002, by the Board of Immigration Appeals.) If the foreign worker has any relatives or any resources in their home country, or any capacity to earn a living there however small, the U.S. will not allow them to stay, no matter what hardship may occur to their U.S. citizen children from the move to the home country.

Under PL 15-108, the Commonwealth labor law, foreign workers will be required to leave the Commonwealth only for 60 days, once every three years, if the foreign worker is an employee of a qualifying employer and for six months, once every three years, if the foreign worker is an employee of a non-qualifying employer. If a foreign worker meets this periodic exit requirement (perhaps during the children's summer school vacation), the foreign worker can remain in the Commonwealth for as long as they are employed.

The new labor law is now in effect. I urge Mr. Hodges to take the time to read it, as he has obviously not done. The regulations under the new law will come into effect on February 1, 2008. Similarly, I urge Mr. Hodges to read the regulations as they apply to the periodic exit. Anyone can see that the Commonwealth law is quite generous, especially compared to U.S. law. Nothing in PL 15-108 deprives any foreign worker of any aspect of belonging in the community. That is certainly more than one can say for "federalization" which has, from the beginning, divided the community, pitted foreign workers against U.S. citizens, and generally aroused negative feelings on both sides. Shame on Mr. Hodges and equal shame on federal officials who told foreign workers that "federalization" would benefit them.

Cinta M. Kaipat
Author of PL 15-108

7 comments:

SaipanLin said...

Sister… rest assured that if my daughter was in his class I would have removed her. I would never allow someone so ignorant to teach my child.

Thank you for loving our community as much as you do.

Ron Hodges said...

Below are Wendy Doromal's comments from her web sight. The Federal Ombudsman and 15k marchers were all wrong and this is a fine new law...Pleease. Thanks for the 15th attack on my job but I could not expect much from a signer of HR-219.

Assistant Attorney General Eleanor Nisperos
enisperos@cnmi-gov.net.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Employment Rules and Regulations for

P.L. 15-108. While some of the labor revisions are positive and will be beneficial for the
residents, businesses, and guest workers in the CNMI, too many are harmful and mean-spirited.
Public Law 15-108 stands as a barrier to the goals of social justice and prosperity. Any law or
policy that violates a person’s social or political rights, or that is in conflict with the U.S.
Constitution should be revised or repealed. Public Law 15-108 is such a law. The law would be
harmful not only the guest workers and their families, but also to the residents of the CNMI, the
businesses in the CNMI, the economy of the CNMI, and the reputation of the CNMI.
I believe P.L.15-108 falls short of being a just law for several reasons. I will limit my comments
primarily to Section 4953, the exit provision, since I concur with the comments made publicly by
the Federal Ombudsman. I join the others that have asked for revisions in the following
provisions of the law:

• Section 4962 The six-month statute of limitations to file a complaint is too short and
would prevent some guest workers from seeking justice and due process. While surely
reducing the labor caseload, it would also deny workers of their rights, and turn a blind
eye to employers who are breaking labor laws. A six-month statute of limitations is
excessively restrictive. I know a maid who did not file a complaint for almost a year
because she worked seven days a week, and could not get a ride to the DOL. There are
trafficked minors and women who have been locked in barracks who could not comply
with this provision. This is also unjust to guest workers with complaints of non-payment
of wages, especially since there is no consensual transfer provision, so employees will try
to suffer through an abusive work experience. Many times workers have gone months
without pay because they trusted their employers who strung them along repeatedly
saying, “Next week I will pay you.” I know of a case where the employer lied to his maid
saying that he was depositing her pay in the bank so she could save it. After a year, she
realized there was no money in the bank.
• Section 4949 This provision is another obstacle to justice. It restricts evidence in
Superior Court to the evidence that was presented and raised in the labor hearing. No
other evidence could be presented. This is unfair to guest workers, as most cannot afford
to hire an attorney to assist them in preparing evidence and documentation to support
their case. This provision would punish the guest workers and perpetuate abuses.
• Section 4941 Restricting the ability to file a labor complaint to only foreign national
workers with an approved labor contract would exclude some of those categories of
workers who are the most victimized. These include trafficked women and minors,
innocent victims of illegal recruitment scams brought in as tourists, and employees who
are working illegally because their employers have not renewed their contracts or have
delayed in renewing their contracts. This provision is yet another obstacle for the guests

workers seeking justice, and another loophole for violating employers to break labor laws
without punishment.

• Section 4964 It is unjust that guest workers violating any subsection of Section 2963
would be subjected to deportation and denial of monetary claims. Some of the violations
listed in the subsection do not merit this punishment, and may even be the result of
employer’s directives to the employee. Again, the victim is punished an denied a chance
for justice.
• Section 4956 Ordering an employee who files a labor or criminal complaint to exit the
CNMI within 30 days and return for the hearing is also an attempt to limit the labor
caseload, deny justice, and forgive employers’ offenses. The complainant could not
afford to pay for the expenses related to returning to the CNMI for the hearing, and
would be denied due process. This provision would also reward unscrupulous employers
as cases would be dismissed, they would not have to pay what is owed to an employee,
and they would received no punishment. Another provision to perpetuate abuses and turn
a blind eye to labor abusers.
• Section 4947 Restrictions on transfers would promote abuses because guest workers
would be compelled to remain with abusive employers. Again, this restriction
perpetuates labor abuses and denies justice.
The above sections illustrate how the law puts unreasonable obstacles in the path of justice for
the guest workers. Clearly, these provisions would deny guest workers of the ability to file
legitimate labor complaints, and would give many abusive employers a “get out of jail free
card.”

There are a couple of provisions I feel are lacking in the law. I propose that the law should
include a provision to require criminal background checks for all potential employers to ensure
they are not felons, and have committed no serious crimes including sexual assaults. This is
especially important for employers hiring maids, and those in other high-risk categories such as
dancers and bar girls. I also propose that the law have a provision calling for an exit survey from
every departing guest worker to ensure that their rights were upheld, and that they have no labor
or criminal case that they were not allowed to file.

The Exit Provision Section 4953 of P.L. 15-108

The provision to require guest workers to exit would cause great harm to the guest workers and
their families. It is hard to believe that a government that invited guest workers to their islands,
and has depended on their skills and talents to construct their roads and buildings, to work in
their medical centers, to serve the tourists, to fish, to farm, to work in restaurants, hotels,
bakeries, stores and other businesses in the CNMI to the extent that the guest workers have for 5,
10, 20, 30 or more years, could create such a provision. This provision would lead to the
division of families and the exile of U.S. citizen children.

If it was the intent or “basic bargain” of the CNMI government that guest workers would enter
the CNMI, work, and leave after a limited amount of time, then provisions should have been
made thirty years ago to limit their stay or the number of contract renewals. However, the CNMI
needed the guest workers and encouraged them to stay, issuing thousands of renewals to
hardworking guest workers each year. Many of the trusted and skilled guest workers have been


in the CNMI over 20 years, and some have spent more years in the CNMI than in their
homelands. Most long-term non-resident workers consider the CNMI as their home. Whether
CNMI officials like it or not, by definition and by emotions attachment it is their home. It is the
only home that the majority of their U.S. citizen children have ever known. The long-term guest
workers have been legally working and residing in the CNMI for extended periods, have started
their families in the CNMI. They have benefited the CNMI by their contributions as laborers
and through the taxes they pay.

This provision sends a message that the guest workers are wanted in the CNMI as long as they
remain indentured, disenfranchised servants, to be disposed of and replaced with a new ones, like
a commodities. This provision sends a message that the guest workers are not accepted as
valued members of the CNMI community. The provision disregards the social and political
rights of the guest workers, and does not value or respect the well being of their families and
children. This provision is in conflict with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

It does not matter whether the guest workers are required to exit for 60 days or six months, the
order would divide families and cause great harm to the U.S. citizen children and their parents.
The children of the guest workers, an estimated 6,000 to 8,000, who were born in the CNMI are
United States citizens. Should their parents be forced to leave, they would have to bear the costs
for their spouses and children to accompany them. Most have expressed that could not afford the
airfare to bring family members with them. This is not surprising since most earn a meager
$3.55 an hour. With the recent minimum wage increases, the DOL has allowed employers to
amend the labor contracts to cut benefits such as housing and travel, which has put the guest
workers in even deeper financial peril. In December when I met with Governor Benigno Fitial,
former House Speaker Oscar Babauta, Policy Advisor Ray Mafnas, and Special Assistant Esther
Fleming, I expressed my concerns about this provision. I asked what plans the CNMI has to care
for hundreds of displaced children. At that time there were none. If this provision stands, the
CNMI government will have to start setting aside funds to repatriate the children with their
parents, or set aside funds to find other ways to provide for them if their parents are deported or
sent home without them.

Some of the parents of U.S citizen children told me that their children would not be able to
attend school in their homelands. As foreign citizens, the parents would be charged tuition to
enroll their children in school, and they said they could not afford this expense. Especially since
the parents will most likely be unemployed for the exile period. Many have stated that they
would try to make arrangements to leave their children in the CNMI to attend school so they will
not interrupt their education. If the children did go with their parents, most would have to
postpone their education. Here is an excerpt from a letter I received that details some problems:

“We are Chinese, have worked and stayed in Saipan more than ten years. We have four children. The
eldest was born in China, now is 15 years old. The other three children were born in Saipan; they are 11,
7, and 5 years old now. The eldest is high school student in China. The year of 2003, we sent the three
children back to China to my hometown school. The grandparents are taking care of them. We were told
to pay 20,000 yuans for three of them for each school term, but for Chinese student no need to pay for this
additional fee. But if we apply Chinese passport for our children (it means our children need to give up
their US citizen and surrender the US passport to Chinese Government), we need to pay the Government
150,00 yuans for each child (450,000 yuans for three of them because we have more than one child. The


Chinese government law only allow "One child per couple." If we pay for the fine of 450,000 yuans and
surrender the US passports, our children can go to school same as other Chinese students. We don't have
this much money to pay and we don't want our children to give up their US citizenship too. So now we
take them back to Saipan...Both of us are contract workers, it is very hard for us to support the family. But
we do have hope for our children and they can go to public school having good education for free in here,
they will not be forced to lose their future even though we are not enough rich and earning minimum
wage.”

Furthermore, most U.S. citizen children of guest workers speak only English. A Bangladeshi
family told me that their children would have to start school in the first grade to learn Bengali,
whether they were in the first grade or tenth grade in the CNMI.

Other guest workers told me that they would be afraid to leave their children in the CNMI to
attend school during the time of their exit because there is no assurance that there would be a job
waiting for them in the CNMI when the exit period ended. They may be financially unable to
return to the CNMI to get their children if they leave them, or they may even not be allowed to
enter to the CNMI in an emergency. The provision defines the exit as repatriation. Their
children could become abandoned.

Assuming that a guest worker can raise the funds to bring their spouse and children with them
during the exit period, how would they be able to support the family for their period of
unemployment? Many workers have stated that since they have lived in the CNMI longer than
they have lived in their homelands, they have no home, no land, no place to go should they be
forced to exit. The hardship placed on these workers and their families will be unbearable. To
exile a family to homelessness is inhumane.

The policy with respect to periodic exit is explained: “The first and primary reason is to open up
opportunities for local residents to be trained and employed in positions previously held by
foreign national workers.” Since the current law calls for contracts to be renewed annually, there
is actually no reason for this statement. Isn’t it a fact that if there are local residents available for
a position, the contract would not be renewed, and the local person would be hired? Presently
there is not an adequately trained or skilled local workforce available to replace all of the nonresident workers who would be subjected to exit requirements. It is not likely that there would
be a trained and skilled local labor force to replace the majority of the guest workers in the near
future either. In fact, there are not even the numbers of local residents to replace them.
Businesses would suffer from this requirement, the CNMI people would suffer, and the economy
would suffer.

The second reason is the primary reason for this provision. It states: “The second reason, also
important, is to enforce the basic bargain that was made with each foreign national worker who
entered the Commonwealth for employment purposes and not for permanent residence.” In other
words when a guest worker hires on in the commonwealth they can be expected to be treated as
an outsider and to remain as indentured servants with no political and social rights. They can be
expected to pay taxes, but to have no voice or fundamental rights. The basic bargain is no
bargain. The CNMI government has allowed skilled and professional guest workers to live and
work in the CNMI for very long periods of time. They were renewed because they are valuable
and trusted workers. Now the government has enacted a law that reinforces that they consider


the guest workers to be disposable commodities, and not valued as human beings or community
members. If a person lives and works legally in a country for twenty years they have earned the
right to call that community home.

The CNMI government is arrogant to think that after passage of this law that they will be able to
retain and recruit enough skilled guest workers. It is arrogant to assume that workers who must
endure the hardships of being returned to their homelands for 2 months or 6 months –whatever
the case would be -would return to the CNMI to suffer further hardships. It is arrogant to assume
that the guest workers that are forced to exit will not tell their countrymen of their experiences,
and of the oppressive labor laws in the CNMI. It is arrogant to assume that guest workers would
choose to return to the CNMI when they are needed all over the world in an expanding global
economy. Why would they choose to go to the CNMI where they lack social and political rights
when they could choose to be employed in a country that offers a pathway to citizenship? The
governments and potential workforce of the host countries are being notified and educated as to
the intent and content of this law.

I have received hundreds of emails and letters testifying to the sleepless nights, the worry, and
the emotional pain that the anticipation of this provision has caused the parents and hundreds of
innocent children. Children should not be spending their days worrying about being separated
from parents, or living in fear of being exiled to a foreign country. They should not be crying in
pain over thoughts of being uprooted from school, friends, and the only home that they know and
love. It is astounding to me that out of a beautiful culture that so reveres and respects the family,
a callous plan such as this could be written and enacted into law.

The intent of the law is clear. The law allows the exploitation of guest workers to benefit the
CNMI, the denial of a clear path to file valid labor complaints, and the limitation and denial of
the guest workers’ constitutional rights and due process. Also, in Section 4953 is provision 7.
Work while the foreign national worker is outside the Commonwealth. This provision informs
the employers that they can further exploit the guest workers after they exit and they don’t even
have to pay them minimum wage:

“A foreign national worker who exits the Commonwealth and is residing in a foreign country
may perform work for an employer located in the Commonwealth using Internet resources or other
methods of outsourced work under any contract arrangement acceptable to the employer and the worker.
When a foreign national worker is outside the Commonwealth (and outside the United States), the worker
is not working under Commonwealth law with respect to foreign national workers and the minimum wage
does not apply.”

If the foreign nationals are not working under Commonwealth or U.S. law as stated here, why is
this provision even in the law? To let employers know that they can get a bargain while their
desperate employees are repatriated? The CNMI government may be correct in assuming that
these workers will be desperate enough to work from afar accepting wages even far below the
minimum wage since under this law, it is the CNMI government who puts them in the position of
desperation.

Section 4953, 8. Rehire upon the re-entry to the Commonwealth, Assuming that a foreign
contract worker has survived a six-month exit requirement, or has not taken a job in his or her


homeland or another country where workers’ rights are respected, what makes the CNMI
government think that he or she would return to a CNMI employer knowing that in three years
the exit drama would replay? In fact, guest workers have said should this law stand without any
revisions; they would use the exit time to find employment in their homeland or to seek
employment in countries where there is a clear pathway to citizenship. The language and intent
in this section is clear:

“Foreign national workers who return to the Commonwealth after six months abroad are starting
a new period of residence in the Commonwealth. No period of prior residence is relevant after return.”

It is clear that the CNMI government is fearful that the tax-paying guest workers may someday
be granted political rights and a have voice. The intent of this provision is to uphold the practice
of disenfranchisement and indentured servitude, and to ensure that the long-term guest workers
will never be given status or a pathway to citizenship, at least not from the CNMI government.

The way a person treats another person, reflects the character of that person; the way a nation
treats the people who live within its borders, determines the character of that nation. An
exclusive society that disenfranchises a major portion of the population from political and social
rights will not prosper politically, socially, morally, or economically. An economy built on the
backs of indentured servants will not grow. As long as guest workers remain disenfranchised,
the CNMI will not have a free labor market to grow the economy. As long as guest workers are
denied of the opportunities to work for more than one employer, to work for as many hours as
they are needed, and to share their skills with multiple employers, the economy will suffer. A
free and open labor market would result in the economic recovery of the CNMI. P.L. 15-108
stands as a barrier to economic progress and prosperity in the CNMI.

I ask you to reconsider this law and to revise it so it will be fair and just to every resident and
non-resident worker who calls the CNMI their home. I ask you to revise this law to consider the
destructive impact it will have on the U.S. citizen children of non-resident workers. I ask you to
revise this law to remove all obstacles to justice so that victims of labor abuse will have a clear
pathway to file labor complaints. I ask you to revise this law to provide adequate consequences
–serious fines, jail-time, and the loss of the privilege to ever again hire guest workers for
employers who violate the labor laws, and cause harm to guest workers.

Thank you for the opportunity to present my comments.

Sincerely,

Wendy L. Doromal

SaipanLin said...

Sister – I forgot to mention that my daughter loves her new school. For obvious reasons I felt the need to move her.

I share your passion for our indigenous community. I fell in love with the people of the CNMI during my first visit here in 1986. The reverence that I feel has grown stronger . .. though I’ve been feeling very, very, very protective lately.

Oh… I forgot to tell you that I was so proud of our legislature for the persona non grata action. I need to remember to thank everyone.

CNMI Blogger said...

Sister Lin:

Thanks for your support and most especially for really getting it.

SaipanLin said...

Cin- it took time & i made mistakes...but i feel sooooooooooo blessed that i do indeed get it.

I've had 20+ years of some of the most beautiful friendships & experiences here. I wouldn't trade them for anything, and protecting what I love so dearly has become important.

Tamara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Hodges said...

Chamberonomics XXXI…MLK vs evil

I attended Reverend Martin Luther King activities last weekend. I heard Cinta Kaipat, Senator Pangelininan, and Governor Fitial praised for their efforts making MLK day a CNMI holiday. Martin Luther King Jr. was the greatest American. Dr. Kathryn Takara spoke on the tenets of civil rights in the Pacific region. I thought about who will defend the tenets of human rights in our commonwealth.

I submitted comments to the CNMI DOL concerning PL-15-108. Cinta Kaipat, recently signed a letter to the editor of both Saipan newspapers titled “Hodges’ distortions shameful”. I read this, as did many current students, friends, family, and business associates. Federal Ombudsman Jim Benetto and human rights activist Wendy Doromal wrote responses to the fallacies and inaccuracies in the Kaipat signed letter.

A guest worker here received a letter from the US federally funded CNMI Department of Labor signed by NMI assistant AG Eleanor Nesperos. This letter was so strikingly like the Kaipat signed letter that they were authored by the same villain. Both letters can be read at www.unheardnomore.blogspot.com { “Who is pulling the strings” by Wendy Doromal}

Nesperos confirmed that she signed and sent one letter but was not the original author. DOL head Barry Hirshbein told me he did not write either letter. All parties I discussed this matter with told me the architect was Deanne Siemer, who I do not know.

I asked many questions of DOL this week. I asked repeatedly who wrote the letters. Deanne Siemer did not answer or respond to over twenty phone calls. I don’t care about Cinta signing a letter she did not write, but I do certainly care that someone like Siemer would have authority to pass judgment for the decent people of the commonwealth regarding who shall be deported and when.

Can anyone in the commonwealth imagine such a person having power to deport the parents of a minor US itizen? I am asking US federal authorities to act and prevent this from happening. I would ask that guest workers not to comply with “orders” from DOL or Siemer until she is removed.

I don’t know who is protecting the tenets of civil rights in the commonwealth or the ideals of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. here, but it is not our DOL or Deanne Siemer.

Ron Hodges
Puerto Rico, Saipan