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    Monday, December 18, 2017-11:16:05P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Variations: Words

WE probably wouldn’t be discussing the CW program today if the U.S. Congress, about three years ago, didn’t remove the provision in the federalization law that allowed the U.S. Labor secretary — “in consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, the secretary of Defense, the secretary of the Interior, and the [CNMI] governor” — to extend the CW program for five years.

If that provision still existed, it is highly unlikely that DHS-USCIS would announce steep cuts in the CW cap especially if the Trump administration had already indicated that it supported an extension. The CNMI, in any case, would just have to lobby the White House instead of two houses of Congress with 535 voting members who have to address many and more pressing national and international issues on top of their own constituents’ concerns.

Right now, the CNMI is merely asking that the U.S. Congress restore the original extension provision in the federalization law. When we talk about the CW cap, moreover, we are referring to the 12,998 who are already here. When it asked DHS-USCIS for a more reasonable cap, the CNMI wasn’t and is not requesting more CWs. True, the CNMI is also hoping that the feds will increase the CW cap to 18,000, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an additional 5,000 CWs. Construction workers, for example, are hired usually for specific projects, and will have to leave after these are completed. And not all CW contracts will be renewed year after year. Some CWs may decide to relocate. Qualified U.S. workers can apply for those jobs and must be hired. The feds can and are going after private sector employers who fail to hire qualified U.S. workers for CNMI jobs.

And it is still up to DHS-USCIS to approve or reject CW petitions. Right now, employers who want to hire CWs must attest that they tried but failed to find qualified U.S. worker for those positions (which are usually skilled positions) that must also be advertised in the media and posted on the CNMI Labor website.

The CW’s presence in the CNMI is no skin off anyone’s back. They are lawfully here, and their petitions were reviewed and approved by the U.S. government. A simple amendment to the law will allow them to continue working here — subject to DHS-USCIS approval, of course. Many of these CWs, moreover, have U.S. citizen children and could be petitioned eventually. If qualified, they could apply for permanent residency and, later, U.S. citizenship. If that happens, they’re still the same folks, but with a new ID and/or passport.

It can be said that this entire issue is basically about what words are on what pieces of paper.

I also find it difficult to imagine that the U.S. would be harmed if the CW program is extended or the cap increased. (12,000-18,000 legal non-immigrant workers in a faraway, remote territory vs over 12 million illegal immigrants in the states.)

Without its current workforce, however, the CNMI economy will take a nosedive as stated by the GAO, a nonpartisan, independent agency that works for the U.S. Congress. The CNMI government revenue collections will plunge. It will, again, lose the ability to pay its obligations on time, if at all. These include the retirees’ pension, government workers, landowners, medical referrals, utilities, among other critical public services. That is not a hypothetical scenario. It happened in the CNMI just a few years ago when the economy had not yet recovered.

Not surprisingly, not a single CNMI elected official, so far, is publicly saying: Yeah, let’s try that again.

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