Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Both sides wrong in guest worker fight, MV 11

By Jeffrey C. Turbitt

Last spring I attended the wedding of my sister in law in Manila . Of the five siblings in my wife's family, only one remains in the Philippines , and I don't suspect she and her new husband will stay there much longer. All happen to be bright, well educated, attractive and competent in their fields. On that same trip, I perused the help wanted section of the Manila newspapers and almost all the ads were for jobs abroad -- the brain drain on the PI is obvious and growing.

Back here in Saipan , a large group of alien workers is waiting desperately for federalization legislation that will enable them the freedom of movement to work in the U.S. mainland. For reasons I don't quite get, possibly racist, possibly plain mean spiritedness or more likely just to maintain control of workers, the CNMI is fighting desperately to thwart the desires of these alien workers.

Both sides here are wrong. The PI will never turn around if it is based on the best and brightest people leaving it. While I am sympathetic to their individual plight, and speak from the privileged perch of white male American, there is something unsavory about the desperate efforts of many Filipinos to flee their own country. Even if these people here are able to go to the states, make money and send some back to keep their relatives afloat, this is still a band-aid approach that never heals the essential problems back home. It passes the buck to future generations. I do understand the individual feeling of helplessness and the overwhelming feel of the problems there, but to just leave through this or some other method to a virtual green card is running away from your problems. Eventually they must be faced or the PI will be perpetually problematic.

Even more unsavory is the effort of the CNMI government to stop them, as it fights tooth and nail to keep these people from upgrading their status. No proposal has these people suddenly gaining voting rights in our bloated, absurd government with its carnival like election and its related spoils system. The economy and wages are so poor here, these newly freed workers won't be eager to stay. If they did, there is your labor supply, only they have a little bit of freedom now and can't be so easily controlled, which is what this effort is about -- controlling alien workers. The leadership isn't exactly grateful or welcoming to the people who fix our cars, watch our kids, cook our food and help us convalesce when we are sick.

Governor Ben Fitial has made many of these unwelcoming remarks, and he in many ways reminds me of George W. Bush. Both were elected with the thinnest of margins. Both have brought disaster to their party. Both seem to care little about what the people want and seem to just do whatever they want. Both are wildly unpopular. In his defense, Fitial has done some difficult cost cutting measures that the new group of retreads recently elected either didn't do in their previous opportunities and are unlikely to do going forward. Both, so I have read and have experienced in Fitial's case, can be very charming politicians. The one stark difference is that Fitial can be extremely forthright and open about the intentions of legislation, which would be praiseworthy if the intentions weren't so awful. Speaking on the newly passed and unpopular labor bill he said the exit requirement is designed "to prevent the aliens from making the CNMI their home and making them eligible for permanent resident status [under future federal immigration law]."

Regarding his "friend," the disgraced, imprisoned, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was paid millions by the CNMI government to keep wages low and the labor supply bloated, he was equally frank: “He did what he was paid to do — which was to prevent a federal takeover of immigration in the CNMI." When confronted with guest workers clamoring for improved status and protesting outside the hearing in August, he said of them: “They are illegals. We’re processing them and they will soon be deported. They deliberately destroyed their passports.”

Both sides need to rethink what they are doing.
There was some shock among the progressive minded that Tina Sablan, at least in the preliminary stage, is in sixth place and just barely ahead for the final slot before the absentee votes are counted on Saturday. One of the anonymous bloggers had an interesting take on the befuddlement of some that Sablan did not garner more votes. Here is his explanation: She ran independent, did not run a single advertisement, did not attend the funerals, baby showers, birthday parties, etc., did not "ask" for a single vote, did not post up a single billboard, did not do a sign waving, did not have a rally or campaign party of any sort, spoke openly about the plight of non-resident workers, federalization, minimum wage, casino act, government's status quo, and all other issues the face the CNMI. She went to every forum she was invited to and spoke from her heart unscripted. She had her name on the ballot different than what is publicly known and moved to Precinct 1 the day before she filed on the last day possible. She did not align herself with anyone running, is female, 26 years old, 50 percent NMD and had 14 people with her contending for 6 seats -- the worst ratio in the election. She did not promise anyone a single job, did not give a single person a donation of any type, spent less than $700 on her entire campaign and with all that said shouldn't the question be: How the hell did she get 911 votes?

Jeffrey C. Turbitt is the language arts department chairman at Saipan Southern High School, as well as an avid scuba diver and traveler. He offers more thoughts in his blog “Hypercritical Thoughts” at: www.turbittj.blogspot.com/ He welcomes feedback, tips and story ideas at turbittj@yahoo.com. His column appears regularly on Wednesdays.


saipanboonieman said...

youre right jeff that both sides need to rethink their approach. both communities need to find a common language that promotes working together as equals to fix the problems we face.

i am "local" and i am married to a "non-local". i have heard both sides of the story and from both perspectives. the one alarming thing i am increasingly seeing is that both sides are beginning to polarize against each other, and that the rhetoric is increasingly hostile on both sides. frustrations are beginning to steer the respective communities' language and intentions, and that bodes poorly for the future of cross-racial relations on our islands.

i think the position this administration is taking is only exacerbating this. and the position the guest workers are taking, a kind of "it's payback time" mentality, is not helping their cause any either. nor is it helping others to understand and sympathize with their situation.

i just worry that in the end we will wind up in a lose-lose situation.

dave said...


Your piece on alien workers and how they want to come to the US was well written and probably hit the mark. I too am married to a Filipina I met while I was working on Saipan as editor of the Marianas Variety and later, the Tribune in its UMDA and Larry Hillblom days.

I consider my family in the Philippines just as dear as my own blood family here in the States and it pains me to see a niece who is a Registered Nurse, another who is a certified Physical Therapist and another an excellent accountant not be able to come here and work because of the time it takes to get a visa.

I have other relatives and frends who came here and never left and they exist in a shadow economy - just about one stop above Hispanic illegal aliens. While I do not sonciser them in the same class as the hundreds of thousands who entered our country illegally by whatever means - they are, in fact - legally the same and face the same penalities.

I live in Northern Virginia where illegal Hispanics settle dozens to a home, choose not to learn English and add to the crime. This has resulted in tough new regulations cracking down on them, including refusing some public services.

My Filipino friends here speak English, assimilate into the local culture, have valuable skills and generaly contribute to the public good - yet they carry the "no papers" stigma.

I have friends there on Saipan who we talk to several times a month and they talk hopefully about the effect federalization will have on their lives - including being abke to come to the U.S. . I explain to them that no matter what happens, np way will they be given the ability to come to the U.S. The CNMI is not a state or even a possession, and as such has a special treaty relationship with the U.S.. Children born there are autmatically U.S. citizens, but not their alien parents.....

Ther sooner that citizens of the Philippines, China and elsewhere who are on Saipan realize that they will NEVER be allowed to come to the U.S. based on federalization, the sooner they can make other plans.

This is the same hope millions of illegal of aliens already here have - that magically, by the stroke of a pen, they will get all the rights of U.S. citizens.

The mood in most of this nation is to lump all illegal aliens in the same boat and I think that's wrong.

If someone can speak, read and write the Enlish Language, has a marketable akill, is free of a criminal record (like lotsof folks in the RP) then they should be given a place at the front of the line to become legal immigrants.

I also think the U.S. should open an office on Saipan to service Filipinos and others who want a visa. It's plan wrong to force them go to their country of origin just to be told they can have one in 10 years.

Thank you,

David T. Hughes
Herndon, VA

lil_hammerhead said...

Those "magical strokes" have come a few times in US history. There will probably be another "magical stroke" for the 12-15 million illegal immigrants who are now in the mainland United States. I don't think it's such a huge gamble for those who've lived and worked here for so long to also await a "magical stroke", that will allow them the opportunity I feel they've earned and they deserve.

By the way.. Hi Dave!

bradinthesand said...

nice piece, jeff. now i'm thinking about shaving my head to emulate your wisdom's shining light.

but not really, though.

keep writing and i'll keep reading.

and this friday: tribes at 7pm. mojitos. no excuses.

and it's an open invitation to anyone else who would like to join for a little 'spirited' conversation.

spirited and minty...

saipanboonieman said...

wohoo! theres nothing like inebriated dialogue!

lil_hammerhead said...

No.. I agree with you, water is wet. I've actually agreed with you many times. Most recently with your incite on the elections. The fact remains, Plato is right on with most of what he writes about. I'm not going to not acknowledge when I'm in agreement with an commenter, "irregardless" of who that commenter is.

bradinthesand said...

when i was in the army i was stationed, albeit briefly, in guantanamo bay, cuba during the 1995 refugee crisis when over 50,000 souls from cuba and haiti were scooped up by the coast guard seeking american shores.

while there i had the pleasure of meeting many people from both countries who were being housed in the refugee camps.

i heard their stories, and some were horrible. imagine watching your family and friends being eaten by sharks in transit.

sounds horrible, right?

well they knew that sort of thing was one of the risks before they headed out.

they also knew that they could be caught and sent back.

they knew, too, of the harsh treatment (to put it lightly) they'd receive if the cuban government caught them.

so imagine yourself in the same situation. how bad would your life have to get before you make some kind of rickety raft out of 55 gallon drums and trash.

how bad before you decide to leave your job (if you have one), your home and your family behind?

how bad would it be to then put the lives of your family at risk by boarding your macgyver-like craft in the middle of the night Z(to hopefully avoid the cuban guards) to make the treacherous journey to another country that probably doesn't want you?

i couldn't imagine a life that bad.

i also couldn't imagine have the strength and conviction to go through with it.

maybe i could do it alone. but with a family?

it might not parallel the situation in the philippines, but on the other hand, it might.

i just haven't spoken with people who were that bad off yet.

Future Retiree said...

The so-called "human rights violation" caused by requiring the parents of U.S. citizens to return to their homelands is premised on a false assumption: That life in China, the Philippines, or elsewhere is terrible.

It is not. Indeed, many U.S. citizens retire to the Philippines every year, and I may eventually join them. If the guest workers have saved a portion of their earnings, as many garment workers have done over the years, they will have a nice nest egg to start their own small business upon returning to their homeland.

While the opposition of some critics to a generous deal for CNMI guest workers may be based in whole or part on racism (actually national origin discrimination), for the most part it is focused on fairness.

Why are CNMI guest workers so entitled to this non-immigrant status? They were never promised green card or other U.S. status. If the U.S. should be helping someone immigrate, how about those in Darfur, or whose lives have been wrecked by our war in Iraq. Those are real victims by comparison.

While it may be cause for sympathy that someone who has put down roots here for 15 or 20 years has to leave involuntarily, this happens to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of folks every year in communities all over the U.S. They lose jobs and have to leave their town, city, or state to find a better situation, perhaps even here. It also happens to U.S. citizens with CNMI government jobs! Don't you know any local folks who had no real choice but to move? No, people are not happy upon involuntary relocation changes, but that is part of life.

It seems that the part of American culture many contract workers have mastered best is the entitlement mentality and art of complaining. Instead, the wise among them should be looking for greener pastures.

The U.S. Congress would be unwise to grant a few fortunate CNMI guest workers special head-of-the-line privileges, when there are millions of relatives of U.S. citizens in China, Mexico, and the Philippines who must wait decades for legal status -- hence the scam Mr. Hughes referred to about Philippine tourists overstaying U.S. visas. If anyone needs special privileges, it is Darfur and Iraq refugees.

Ms. Doromal and Mr. Woodruff can make their best case possible for federal immigration largesse toward CNMI contract workers, but "justice" is certainly not their best argument.

Jeff said...

I agree. I've been to the PI many times. Friendly people, some marvelous beaches. My filipina wife and I will undoubtedly retire there one day.

Going back to the PI isn't sending someone to Afghanistan.

lil_hammerhead said...

Don't forget now.. you are going there on your retirement or pension checks. You are not going over there to work, scratch and scrape to make a meal for a family. Comeon now. A whole lot of people have thought about moving to a country like the PI to stretch their retirement dollar and live more comfortably.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments made by "Future Retiree." No promises were made to the contract workers for a better status, green cards and what have you. The situation is that Woodruff and a few others such as Bonnie Sagana exploited these contract workers and that is the root of it. Charging membership fees of $100 is outrageous and I hope that someone looks into this. Woodruff left off island yesterday I guess on the Dekada membership dues to either Hawaii or D.C. to plead his case. In all fairness, although the labor and immigration may have been laxed, it allowed guest workers to stay for a long period of time. In the end it's a lose lose proposition for guest workers, especially for those who spent $100 each year for Dekada membership.