Friday, May 14, 2010

CNMI violated the Covenant with the United States

Ruth Tighe's weekly column laments:
The Indigenous Affairs Office will be holding hearings for Chamorros and Carolinians to express their views about the Department of Interior's report on the future status of foreign workers in the CNMI. And who will provide a forum for the haoles on island?
I have a pet peeve with mainland US citizens who call themselves haoles. To me it is as disrespectful and self-denigrating as the African Americans who continue to use the word nigger. The word doesn't even have any roots in local culture; it was borrowed from Hawaii. The word is also racist on several levels. Primarily it is used to identify someone from the outside, but more specifically it is usually used to describe someone who is white. One wouldn't normally call an Asian-American or an African-American a haole; they would be Japanese or Black. So when someone says, "how come no one asked the haoles?," they mean, "how come no one asked the white people?"

There. With that paragraph I just pissed off half the haoles on Saipan.

It is nearly impossible to have a rational debate about immigration reform on Saipan with someone living on Saipan. One side argues that human rights have been violated and anything less than immediate citizenship for the hard working foreign contract workers on Saipan would violate the values and ideals of America; the other side claims that this whole thing was started by mainland labor unions and neo-colonialists who are trying to keep the indigenous Chamorro people from practicing their culture, and enjoying the freedoms of economic independence and self-government. There isn't much middle ground.

I can remember my father telling me that the Chamorros from Saipan were the smartest people in all of Micronesia. The deal they had negotiated with the United States had led to an economic boom and there were 10 jobs in the Northern Marianas for every Chamorro who wanted one. There were so many jobs and so much economic activity that the businesses had to bring in foreign workers just to fill those jobs.

The lesson would continue with him telling me that the reason for this economic miracle was that the Northern Marianas controlled their own immigration. This situation had to be guarded at all costs, and not just to protect the economy. If the federal government were to take over immigration, within five years there would be foreign voters. Before you knew it, there would be foreign congressman, foreign mayors, a foreign governor, and Article XII would be overturned.

This lesson was imparted in almost every indigenous household, too, or at least every household that read the newspapers. I was not the only recipient of these lessons; my father wrote them out in several letters to the editor:
(W)hen (not if) the US immigration laws are made applicable, guest workers would be able to become US citizens and be able to vote and run for office. When that happens, the number of non-Chamorro and non-Carolinian voters might soon become the majority of the voters. As the majority voters, they could remove from office all Chamorro and Carolinian Senators, Congresspersons, Mayors, Governor and so on and so forth. They could amend the Constitution and kill Article 12. When all these have occurred, what would happen to the self-government that the people of the CNMI negotiated and acquired for themselves under the Covenant, in the exercise of their right to self-determination?
This explains why every single elected official in the Northern Marianas is opposed to granting US citizenship and voting rights to the foreign contract workers: The command to keep foreign workers disenfranchised is as engrained in their brains as the dogma of the Catholic Church.

In the 1990's the Northern Marianas government made many promises to the United States government. Specifically, the Northern Marianas promised that in order to end the situation where more than 50% of the population consisted of guest workers who were "unable to vote, politically powerless and (were) subjected to abuse" they would:

(1) put a moratorium on the hiring of guest workers
(2) cap the number of guest workers in the garment industry and the size of that industry
(3) weed out corruption in the labor and immigration offices
(4) prosecute employers and closing down businesses who abuse guest workers
(5) prohibit the number of guest workers from exceeding the number of US citizens in the CNMI
(6) allow guest workers to transfer from one occupation to another and from one employer to another
(7) allow illegal aliens to become legal under the amnesty law
(8) expedite the deportation of illegal aliens
(9) limit the number of years that a guest worker may stay in the CNMI.

None of these promises were kept. It was the CNMI who violated the Covenant, not the United States.

The CNMI recognized that allowing guest workers to become long term residents without gaining the right to vote was immoral. In one of his letters, my father wrote, "the CNMI leaders have to make a difficult choice. Either they effectively control immigration, which means slower economic growth, or do nothing and have the US apply its laws, which means voting rights for the guest workers and lost (sic) of political control for the Chamorro and Carolinians."

In 1998, the Northern Marianas tried to make the claim, "It appears that the CNMI leaders have opted to control immigration, stop the abuses of guest workers and avoid the application of US immigration laws in order to keep control of their economic and political destiny."

From the vantage point of 2010, it would appear the opposite was true.

It appears that the CNMI leaders did NOT opt to control immigration, stop the abuses of guest workers or avoid the application of US immigration laws in order to keep control of their economic and political destiny. They made a deliberate choice to carry on with the status quo knowing full well what the consequences would be.

The elected leaders of the Northern Marianas traded Chamorro and Carolinian political and social control of the islands for a decade's worth of economic gain for a few. Governor Benigno Fitial was one of the the architects of that failed social experiment and was one of the largest beneficiaries, making millions off the back-breaking work of people less fortunate than he. From high atop his mansion on Mount Tapachou he now looks down upon the economic disaster which he created.

The leaders of the CNMI government know that any foreign contract worker who has lived in the CNMI for five years is morally and ethically, if not legally, deserving of permanent residency and being put on the pathway towards US citizenship. They may not like it or want it, but past statements have revealed that they at least know this to be true. For too long justice was denied to thousands because of the likes of Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, Richard Pombo, Tom Feeney, and John Doolittle. Now justice is finally coming.

What also needs to be determined is what to do with the contract workers who have been in the CNMI for fewer than 5 years. My recommendation is to lump them in with all the other contract workers. Give them residency in the United States and put them on the pathway towards US citizenship. If they qualify for citizenship, they can apply. If they don't want to become citizens, then at the end of their residency they can return to their home countries.

Provided residency and creating a pathway towards citizenship is fair for both the legal foreign contract workers and the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian locals. The leaders of the Northern Marianas knew that this would happen if they did not do something about the immoral state of affairs and now the United States is making good on their promise to fully implement the Covenant.


Saipan Newbie said...

Good stuff... I learned a thing or two. And, for the record, I find it weird to be called an "American" by the locals too. Sheesh, what color is their passport?? Anyway, I've settled on "mainlander".

Saipan Writer said...

Great post, Angelo.

I'm one of those people who piss you off, though. I've been here so long I call myself a "haole." To me it means a white person (who by definition is an outsider). Strangely enough, in the CNMI it is less offensive than in Hawaii where it includes a strong negative connotation. Here, by adopting the term for themselves, haoles have to a certain degree acknowledged two things--we are not indigenous to the CNMI and we live in a place where indigenous rights still matter.

I don't mind being a haole, a minority in the CNMI. I chose to live here. I'd rather be called a haole than an American, because calling me American denies the fact that locals are also Americans (as Saipan Newbie aptly points out). Mainlander is just too ridiculous for someone like me who has lived here more than 25 years. I also like that "haole" isn't a Chamorro or Carolinian word--I think that takes some of the racial sting from it. It's just a descriptive word.


Saipan Writer said...

I could follow Joe Race's lead, though, and call myself a "gringo."


Ellisa said...

Honestly.. who gives a rats ass on what people chose to call themselves. You... even with all of your facts and history lessons will never be able to controll whether or not a person choses to call themselves a 'Haole'.. at least they are not trying to call themselves Chamorro or Hawaiian... they are just showing respect to the locals and the land in which they reside.