A double play for the CNMI’s employer and governing classes

By David North on February 1, 2021

Marianas Variety, February 1, 2021

A nearly secretive double play has recently been concluded in Washington that gives the CNMI employer and governing class a major (if obscure) victory.

The maneuvers regarding foreign workers in the foreign-worker-saturated Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands appear to be carefully devised to bring extravagant federal funds to those Pacific islands, while continuing to condemn the local foreign work force to a vote-less future, thus playing into the hands of the islands’ haves.

You might call it CNMI exceptionalism. There have been two quite separate developments:

While all nonimmigrants have been barred from Covid-19 payments, all over America, there is an exception in the most recent $1.9 trillion relief package allowing full benefit payments to the CW-1 class of foreign workers in the CNMI, which will prop up the economy of these islands by the millions if not the tens of millions and will encourage the CW-1s to stay in the islands. The benefits include $400 a week extra in unemployment benefits, a princely sum in the CNMI.

Meanwhile in the Biden administration's proposed America’s Citizenship Act of 2021, which would (among other things) make all of those out of status as of January 1, 2021, eligible (over time) to become citizens, there is a different kind of exception: Temporary workers in the CNMI would not be eligible for green cards unless they were present in the islands on November 28, 2009.

The November 2009 provision is in Section 245G(b)(5)(B) of the January 14, 2021, staff summary of the proposed legislation, which was not available online at press time.

So, on one hand, federal policy will give a huge windfall to the local economy, while the people who do the actual hard work in the islands, and comprise something like half the total workforce, will be denied eventual voter status. Thus the indigenous Chamorros will keep their total grip on power, to the detriment of the largely Chinese and Filipino workforce. If the whites in Mississippi tried to create a similar arrangement vis–a-vis the Blacks, the protests would be loud and long. But the CNMI, just north of Guam in the far Western Pacific, is a long way away, and no one on the Mainland will notice.

In fact, I suspect that this double play for the CNMI establishment is (prior to this report) known only to about four of us in Washington: the CNMI's delegate to Congress, Kilili Sablan, a DINO (Democrat in name only); his able chief of staff; the CNMI governor's agent in town; and this writer. The chances are that the Democrats listened to only Sablan on these two issues, with the congressional staff working on the stimulus package and Biden's staff working on the legalization proposal never talking to one another, and certainly not on this point.

The CNMI has a foreign-worker policy much like that of the United Arab Emirates; i.e., lots of foreign workers with no political rights, now or ever. The Biden administration, distracted by a slew of important issues, shows no signs, yet, of changing things in these islands.

Note. Foreign workers in Guam are being treated differently than their opposite numbers 100 miles away in the Marianas. They, like all other nonimmigrants under the U.S. flag except those in CNMI, got no bonuses from the $1.9 trillion relief package; but, like their colleagues in CNMI, only those who arrived before November 28, 2009, are proposed to qualify under Biden's amnesty bill, thus they live in the worst of possible worlds: no Covid checks and, for most, no permanent visas.