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    Monday, December 18, 2017-7:23:39A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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‘Put politics aside’

U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan on Wednesday urged other local leaders to put politics aside when dealing with the workforce challenges facing the CNMI.

In a press conference at his district office in Susupe, Kilili told reporters that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ decision to cut the CW-1 cap for fiscal year 2018 from 12,998 to 9,998 is “consistent” with President Donald Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order.

He noted the USCIS announcement which states that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “believes that this approach will further encourage the recruitment of U.S. workers and the transition into the U.S. immigration system, consistent with the goals of [the federalization law] and the general policy in Executive Order 13,788, Buy American and Hire American.”

Kilili also reacted to the “inaccuracies” in the statements made by Rep. Angel A. Demapan, one of which related to the enactment of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act or Public Law 110-229 on May 8, 2008. Kilili said it was President George W. Bush who signed the law not President Barack Obama. P.L. 110-229 extended federal immigration law to the CNMI.

“I know there will be people who will blame me for a lot of things, but I will try to ignore their noise and stay focused on working for the people of the Northern Marianas,” he said.

Demapan is running against Kilili in the 2018 elections.

In 2014, Kilili said he pushed the five-year extension of the CW and CNMI-Only E2C investor programs as well as the exemption of the CNMI from the H visa cap.

These programs, Kilili said, have benefitted the CNMI greatly.

“And if you want to blame me for that, I accept responsibility. Protecting our workforce and looking after our long-term economic well-being have never been issues of politics for me. These are critical policy matters that affect our entire community. Unfortunately, some people have been trying to make these issues political.

‘I welcome the governor’s call to set aside politics so we can work together. As I have said, we are stronger when we are unified. This applies not only to the governor and me, but also to the members of the Legislature, businesses, workers, all of us. This is serious business.”

He also urged other elected leaders to be serious, thoughtful and prudent in their public statements.

“Words, too, have consequences,” he added.

Whether Demapan’s inaccuracies in his statements are intentional or not, Kilili said they are “misleading and potentially damaging to the collective efforts in crafting long-term solutions to the important policy challenges we face today.”

He added, “When our elected leaders of the commonwealth attack and disparage the good-faith efforts of other members of the U.S. Congress, including Republican members who visit our commonwealth to better understand our issues — that does not help our efforts. When elected leaders of the commonwealth testify in the U.S. Congress to support bills and then, later say, they don’t like those bills — that does not help our efforts. When the commonwealth government provides Congress with data and later said that the data are outdated — that does not help our efforts.”

Kilili reiterated the need to work with both the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate.

“I have been able to do so effectively during these five past terms. And I have built a trusting relationship with them. I would like to do the same with our commonwealth leaders. I am trying. And I need for them to work with me as well,” he added.

Kilili said his bill, H.R. 1466, could have prevented the CNMI’s current workforce problems, but the Fitial administration testified against it in the U.S. Congress. The bill would have granted CNMI permanent residency to qualified, long-term guest workers.

Kilili said his bill, H.R. 339, which became P.L. 15-53, aimed to protect foreign workers who wouldn’t be eligible for any other visa category except CW-1. It also protected construction workers who had been here prior to Oct. 1, 2015, he added.

The 3,000 construction workers who arrived here from Oct. 1, 2015 onward, Kilili said, meant 3,000 fewer guest workers for other job categories under the CW program.

He said there is a huge part of the CNMI foreign workforce who will not qualify for any other visa. These include hotel employees and cooks. “If it were not for the CW program, they would not be here,” he said. They are those who hold jobs not categorized under the H-visa program.

But employers of construction workers can apply for H-2B visas for them, Kilili said.

P.L. 15-53 ensured that CW permits would go to those who could not qualify for any other visa.

Asked about the denial of the CW applications for some construction workers who have been here prior to Oct. 1, 2015, Kilili said the workers probably changed employers.

USCIS, he added, has an administrative rule that prohibits long-term construction workers from changing employers.

“I have met with several construction companies and they are actually happy that their workers cannot leave [them] because there is a company here going around [and trying] to hire the construction workers that they have.”

Without the USCIS administrative rule, “I think one company with a lot of money would go around and hire workers [currently] working for smaller companies [which] will [soon] be out of workers.”

Kilili once again expressed optimism that the transition period will be extended by the U.S. Congress.

“I am very confident…. There is a good chance we’ll get an extension, but I would like for us to work together,” Kilili said, referring to the CNMI’s other elected leaders.

There is a group working on the issue, he added, and it is led by the chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

“We agreed that the governor’s office should be a part of the working group. When will that invitation be extended? It’s not my call. But I have asked and they have agreed,” he said, adding that the working group has been meeting, exchanging emails and having telephone conversations about possible long-term solutions to the CNMI’s workforce issues.

The working group, he said, has set the parameters and a framework for what can be done in a new bill.

Under current federal law, the CW program ends in Dec. 2019 unless extended by the U.S. Congress.