No chance of improved status for long-term guest workers this year

Jun 5, 2016

Marianas Variety — U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan says because of the current anti-immigration sentiment in the nation, any legislation granting improved immigration status for long-time guest workers cannot be passed in this federal election year.

In an email to Variety, he said he and the Gov. Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres understand that for some time to come, the demand for workers will be greater than the number of local workers that the commonwealth has.

“The governor and I have agreed that I will introduce legislation that matches the proposals he makes in the Section 902 consultations [with the president’s representative],” Sablan said, adding this is also what he has been hearing in the listening sessions that he has conducted with CNMI legislators, local businesses and other constituents.

“At the same time, we have to do everything we can to make sure our own local workers have jobs. That is why I authored legislation to track how the CNMI government makes use of the CW fees it gets, so we know that money is actually putting local people in good-paying jobs.”

During a meeting on Thursday with the governor and members of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management, Kilili was asked about the possibility of granting improved immigration status to long-time guest workers in the CNMI as one of the possible remedies to the labor shortage the commonwealth is facing.

Kilili said he did propose it, but he failed to convince the majority of his colleagues in the U.S. Congress.

In an email, he said: “I tried to fix the problems facing our economy by letting people who have worked here for a decade or more, or who have U.S. citizen children, to stay and continue working without needing to use a CW permit. I originally put that language in H.R. 1466 and then I also put that provision in the comprehensive immigration reform passed by the U.S. Senate in 2014. But unfortunately those did not pass Congress. And now, of course, with all the anti-immigration rhetoric from Mr. Trump in the presidential campaign, and the powerful right-wing factions in the House, there is no chance of getting legislation granting status passed this year,”

But Kilili said he remains committed “to comprehensive immigration reform that would stabilize the Marianas workforce and keep our families together. When the time comes for national comprehensive reform legislation — which I hope will be in the next Congress and with a new president — I will work hard to make sure that the Marianas is included in it once again.”

He added, “In the meantime, I am working to fix the immediate CW problem before us, and I will need the input and cooperation of our commonwealth officials, business community, and our local and third-country national contracts workers to do so.”

Kilili on Thursday said he supports the governor’s proposal to seek an extension of the federal CW program for another 10 years and to increase the CW cap to 18,000 from 12,999.

He said he will introduce enabling legislation this week.