What do you do when there is an alleged need for more construction workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory just North of Guam?
Bear in mind that nearly half of the work force there consists of temporary foreign workers, a powerless lot of 13,000 or so who cannot hope for U.S. citizenship, and who cannot vote. Nor can these CW-1 visa holders, for some statutory reason lost in history, do construction work.
Do you do the sensible thing and try to remove the "no construction work" requirement, so that you give jobs to current resident aliens and not expand the foreign worker population still further? Do you look for H-2B workers from nations that have not supplied them in the past?
Of course not! The congressional delegate from the Islands, always deeply allied to the employer class in the islands, is Gregorio Killi Camacho Sablan, who sits with the Democrats in the House of Representatives, and who can vote in committee, but not on the floor. He has just introduced legislation that would add 3,000 alien construction workers to the CW-1 population for the next three years to cope with some storm damage. It is HR 4479.
To be fair, the Department of Homeland Security, in a move that I missed earlier this year, decided that the overstay rate (nationwide, not just in the Marianas) among H-2B workers from the Philippines was too high at 40 percent, so they barred people from that country from that program. Some H-2B workers from the Philippines had worked construction in the CNMI in the past. But from the employers' point of view, the wages and working conditions of the H-2B workers sometimes involve the U.S. Department of Labor — a prospect the local employers do not relish — so there apparently is no effort being made to bring in construction workers under H-2B from other nations or, of course, any effort to hire U.S. citizens for those jobs.
The 3,000 new alien workers would not only flood the local labor market still further, they would be subject to rules devised by a local government and the local branch of Homeland Security, two entities that over the years have done their best to avoid a tight labor market in these islands. And a tight labor market is needed to give these workers a better deal since the employers have made sure that these workers will never get a chance to vote.
If past is prologue, the bill will quietly pass and the status of the labor market in those islands will remain quo, or worse.