Obama Caves to Ghosts of DeLay, Abramoff on CNMI Migrant Rules

By David North on September 25, 2011

If you had an unruly and obese child in the house would you tell him: "You cannot have more than 15 banana splits today"?

Would you follow that with this order: "Further, you cannot have more than fourteen banana splits tomorrow"?

Probably not, but that is approximately what happened when the Obama administration, apparently caving to the ghosts of ex-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and once-jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff, issued new migration rules for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the little U.S. colony just north of Guam, in the western Pacific.

The new ground rules set the conditions for the nonimmigrant-flooded labor markets of the islands, and for the CNMI-only guestworkers, aliens who cannot qualify for any conceivable Mainland nonimmigrant visa category, but who are still in the islands as a result of admissions decisions made by the highly exploitative CNMI governments in prior years.

In the past, the CNMI rulers had been extremely supportive of the sweatshop owners and other abusive employers, as had DeLay and Abramoff. As a basic part of the local policy, none of the guestworkers were ever allowed to become either permanent resident aliens or citizens, so they never could vote. Subsequently, Congress moved immigration management from the islanders to the Department of Homeland Security but gave the latter much leeway to work out transition arrangements. Too much leeway, it turns out.

What DHS has done, in its most recent announcement, is, for all practical purposes, to maintain the bad old days of labor exploitation in the CNMI, much as an unlucky fly is preserved in amber. Nothing changes except the fly is immobilized forever.

In a bit of policy-making that should be derided as ridiculous, DHS has ruled that "a limited number of CW [CNMI-only] visas are available each fiscal year . . . the limitation for FY 2011 is 22,417 and for FY 2012 will be 22,416 . . . "

That works out to be 41.6 percent of the total population of the islands! Not the labor force – the entire population! Alien workers are already something like 70 percent of the private sector work force. (The locals prefer the softer jobs in the well-padded CNMI government.)

Were such an outlandish "limitation" to be applied to the Mainland, it would be like saying that no more than 130 million temporary alien workers could be admitted to the U.S. at any given time; we already have too many at two or three million. Not even the most Open of the Open Borders people would accept such an outrageous number. That would be 130 million temporary workers.

DHS – like the parent restricting the child to only 14 banana splits a day – says in its next breath, but no more than 22,416 next year, a reduction of one (1) worker.

The closer you examine the new regs, the worse they appear.

Where did the number 22,417 come from? It is "based on the CNMI government's estimate of non-resident workers."

And who is the governor? Why, it is Benigno Fitial, the last elected official under the U.S. flag who is an ally of Abramoff. After all, Abramoff used his skill with congressional earmarks to break a deadlock in the CNMI lower house some years ago to get Fitial elected Speaker. Fitial went on from there to the governorship, being elected by a splinter party that is well to the right of the Republican Party.

It is hard to believe that 22,417 is not a seriously bloated figure, designed to flood the labor markets for the benefit of CNMI employers. Further, the CW workers can only retain that status if an employer applies for them, adding still another exploitation mechanism to the bosses' tool kits.

Finally, instead of freezing access to CNMI-only (CW) nonimmigrant status, the new regs make it possible to bring in additional "needed foreign national workers" if they get nods from both an employer and DHS. Such workers, however, must not expand the CW work force beyond the "limitation" of 22,417.

What needs to be done in the CNMI is to start reducing the alien population by, among other things, deporting the numerous illegals there, as I suggested in a previous blog. There should be absolutely no new admissions of the kinds of workers that are so common there: full-time, year-around unskilled workers. If they really need some talent, the island employers have full access to the plethora of mainstream nonimmigrant worker programs with the letters F, H, J, L, O, Q, and R, but rarely use those somewhat regulated programs.

Further, Congress should move to put at least some of the CW workers onto the path toward citizenship, to equalize the Kuwaiti-style labor market we have in the CNMI now, where the indigenous population happily plays the role of Kuwaiti Arabs. As in Kuwait, outsiders do the actual work in the CNMI.

My sense of the dynamics of this situation, based on my past experience with the islands rather than any current information, is that the Mainland DHS officials were overly impressed with the significance of "political correctness" in their dealings with island rulers, rather than assessing them and their policy positions with the eyes of clear-eyed realists.

In all likelihood these DHS guys speak only English and never spent any time talking with the guestworkers and never looked at the underlying labor market and census data. They must have stayed in their hotels and on the beaches when not in the CNMI government offices, and they missed a lot.

In the meantime, while the usually dour Jack Abramoff may still be working in a post-penal pizza parlor, as he was at last report, he must be smiling from ear to ear.