The Old Spanish Empire Haunts Our Immigration Debates

By David North on February 11, 2013

Our immigration policy debate would be pretty muted if there were not so many Hispanics fleeing to the United States from Hispanic-run societies.

Well over 80 percent of the illegal aliens in the country are from Hispanic nations, from places that used to be part of the Spanish Empire. For some reason, the more-migration people never discuss why so many Hispanics want to move to an Anglo-dominated society, nor why there is absolutely no movement in the opposite direction (with the tiny exception, more than a century ago, of Mitt Romney's ancestors; they were fleeing from America's then-marriage laws that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman).

The most obvious part of the immigration policy conversation about those who had lived in what had been Madrid's empire deals with the massive movement of illegals from Mexico and Central America, but there are also two other, much smaller populations with similar historical backgrounds that deserve our attention, if in different ways.

These are the Cubans covered by the overly generous Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) of 1966, and the legally admitted Filipinos who are stuck in limbo status in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; the first group gets legal status simply by setting foot on U.S. soil, those in the second group are denied a route to citizenship because of the plantation mentality of the CNMI's rulers and the silent acquiescence of Janet Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security.

The likelihood that these two problems would be corrected under a "comprehensive immigration reform" is minimal because virtually all the political powers paying attention to these micro issues want to keep the door open to the Cubans and keep it closed to the Filipinos in the CNMI.

Both Cuba and the Northern Marianas were parts of the Spanish Empire until the Spanish-American War; then Cuba became independent and the Marianas were sold to Germany. Still later, that set of islands became, sequentially, a Japanese colony, a UN Mandate, then a U.S. possession. For decades the local politicians in the CNMI ran their own immigration policies, which resulted in a totally needless flood of exploited nonimmigrant workers; immigration in those islands is now managed (badly) by DHS.

Interestingly, it was the British news service Reuters that recently ran a long, thoughtful article "Cuban Perks Under Scrutiny in U.S. Immigration Reform" about the CAA that its critics say "is a costly and anachronistic Cold War relic that should be abolished".

This is the "wet foot, dry foot" law that allows legal status to illegal Cuban entrants so long as they are encountered on land; if they are caught at sea, they are returned to Cuba. In the same area, if Haitian illegals are apprehended on either land or sea they are repatriated to their island.

The article points out that the CAA was passed at a time when it was difficult for people to leave Cuba; that is no longer the case, as the Castro regime has rolled back its exit-control policies.

Will this glaring loophole be maintained? One would expect that the Cuban politicians in the House and the Senate will strive to keep it open; we will see.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, in the CNMI, which is just north of Guam, there's an obscure conflict between the powerless foreign workers in those islands, all admitted legally to the United States (as the Cubans were not), and the powerful local political establishment run by the indigenous population (primarily Chamorros).

There are some 12,000 guestworkers, all kept by DHS in a special nonimmigrant status that prevents them from becoming green card holders or citizens. That's fine with the local government, which is run by the convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's last ally to hold elected office, Governor Benigno Fitial. If you are looking for a (D- or R-CNMI) after his name, don't bother; he belongs to the Covenant Party, which is well to the right of the Tea Party.

While some mainland Republicans seem intent on cutting their own throats by causing the citizenship of millions of Hispanic illegals, the Covenant types are shrewder. Knowing that about 13,000 votes were cast in the last CNMI gubernatorial election, almost exclusively by the indigenous population, the local pols are not enthusiastic about adding 12,000 currently exploited alien workers to the voting population. For more on this situation see this blog.

There is a possibility that some form of corrective legislation may be introduced by the voteless CNMI delegate in the House of Representatives, Kilili Sablan (who sits with the Democrats), but his office was unwilling to discuss the terms of such a bill.

Most of these guestworkers, incidentally, have moved from one part of the old Spanish Empire, the Philippines, to another, the Marianas.

Theirs is not an easy life. To maintain their legal nonimmigrant status with DHS they must get a document signed by their employer, and there have been countless stories from those islands that these workers have not reported their employers for non-payment of wages for fear that the workers could not get the employers to sign the cards that prevent their deportation.

This strange arrangement, in this American backwater, is largely the product of the Department of Homeland Security under a pro-immigrant Democratic administration. Odd and sad.

For the latest on the bizarre doings in the CNMI (such as the impending impeachment of the governor), see this admittedly opinionated website, Unheard No More!