Marianas Variety

Last updateWed, 23 May 2018 12am







    Tuesday, May 22, 2018-8:26:54P.M.






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‘We asked for improved status, not a phase out’

THREE of the leaders of the 2007 “Unity march” yesterday said they never anticipated that their support for federalization would adversely affect guest workers and result in their phase-out “like disposable commodities.”

In separate interviews, guest worker advocates Itos Feliciano, Boni Sagana and Carlito Marquez admitted that what is going on now in the CNMI under federal law is something they never expected to happen.

“We thought things would get better for us once federalization happened,” Feliciano said. “We had high hopes to get improved status. We did not anticipate it would get this bad. There are many of us who have gone out of status already, even those who have children born in the CNMI. We were asking for improved status but many of us got ‘out of status’ instead. Maybe soon, the feds will start going after them.”

Sagana said: “We did not know it would come to this. Federalization was triggered by the reports of labor abuses here. But now the labor abuse victims are the same people who are gradually being phased out, even those who have U.S. citizen children. So the very people who basically helped make federalization happen became its victims.”

Under federalization law, CW guest workers have to pay FICA taxes even though H-visa workers on Guam who receive higher pay are exempted from it.

Moreover, a CW permit holder who has to return to his or her home country must set an appointment with the U.S. Embassy there and pay $190 for a visa to re-enter the CNMI.

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“We already have a permit from USCIS but we still need to pay another federal agency $190 just to come back to a place where we are legally allowed to work?” asked a guest worker who declined to be identified.

“Is that fair? We’re probably the lowest paid foreign workers anywhere in the U.S. But we’ve to pay FICA and a visa fee because we went to our home country. They say the local system was ‘abusive,’ but under local control we weren’t charged this unfair fee and we were free to leave and come back. The CNMI government also processed our papers expeditiously and didn’t tell us to stop working just because our renewal was not processed yet.”

The processing of CW permit applications usually takes months, and not all of them are approved. If a renewal has not been granted, the CW employee must stop working.

“It’s like we are being punished for working here,” said another guest worker who also declined to be identified. “The feds failed to go after the abusive employers back then, but now that they’re in charge they’re going after us, legitimate workers and our employers who have done nothing wrong.”

The federalization law supported by the Bush White House originally proposed to grant FAS-like immigration status to qualified workers, but the Democratic Congress deleted the provision.

“We were abandoned and forgotten by the federal government,” Sagana said.

Marquez said in 2011, they asked the U.S. court for a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of the final federal immigration rules, but their motion was dismissed.

Marquez, said six years ago guest workers were “given a glimpse of hope” when the improved status provision was still in the proposed federalization measure.

But with the implementation of the law as passed by the U.S. Congress, “things just got worse and worse,” he added.

“We’re doomed. I have a lot of friends who have gone home. We are all being gradually phased out on technicalities.”