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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Here it is, take it
by Dover Bitch

At 9:30 ET this morning, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to discuss a bill that would federalize immigration for the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). It should be available via webcast.

Why is this hearing important? After all, it's not on the evening news. It's not even scheduled to be broadcast live on C-SPAN.

The truth is, this hearing is only important to people who believe that America shouldn't be a place like this:

Using its immigration authority, the Commonwealth has created an economy that relies upon the wholesale importation of low-paid, short-term indentured workers. Foreign workers pay up to $7,000 to employers or middlemen for the right to a job in the CNMI. When they finally reach the Commonwealth, they are assigned to tedious, low paying work for long hours with little or no time off. At night they are locked in prison-like barracks. If they complain, they are subject to immediate deportation at the whim of their employer. Some arrive in the islands only to find that they were victims of an employment scam. There are no jobs waiting for them, and no way to work off their bondage debt.

That's from a February 2000 press release, issued by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) to announce the unanimous passage in the Senate of a bill that would put an end to the "system of indentured immigrant labor [that] is morally wrong, and violates basic democratic principles."

It's not hard to understand how the Senate came to unanimity on the issue in 2000. The Department of the Interior had issued a report that highlighted horrors like "forced abortions and that women and children were subject to forced prostitution in the local sex-tourism industry."

Congress, itself, had heard testimony so gut-wrenching, I honestly can't bring myself to quote it here.

Of course it was a unanimous vote. Who could vote against ending forced abortions? Who could vote against stopping children from being forced into prostitution... On American soil, no less? It just breaks your heart thinking about it.

That is, if you have a heart. Akaka's celebratory press release ends with this: "S. 1052 now moves to the House of Representatives for action."

And that's where Tom DeLay took over. That's where Jack Abramoff's money went. That's where Don Young's convicted felon aide and former CNMI labor secretary worked. That's where a decision was made to allow the rape and slavery continue. DeLay called it "a perfect petri dish of capitalism."

For years, the House of Representatives was a place where these victims -- on American soil legally -- could seek no relief. That can all change right now, if good Americans decide we won't let this oppression continue on U.S. soil.

It's really that simple. Either we convince a Democratic Senate and Congress to stop it right now, while the issue is in front of them, or the Senate will move on to other things and the horrors will continue. The TV isn't telling you that, but that's what the blog-o-sphere is for, right?

Blogger Dengre is attending the hearing. He has brought with him the testimony of thousands of CNMI workers praying for S.1634 to pass (with amendments to make it stronger). The testimony was gathered by human rights advocate Wendy Doromal, who travelled to CNMI specifically to help these victims have their voices heard.

DeLay, Abramoff and their cohorts have prevented Congress from restoring human rights and human dignity to the indentured servants and oppressed women of the Marianas. The universe has finally aligned to give us the opportunity to rescue people who need help. If we squander this opportunity to do what is obviously the right thing -- stopping this abuse -- it will be to our everlasting shame.

Here are the senators on the committee. Please contact yours and urge them to support S.1634. Dengre suggests the following changes:

1. Create a pathway to Citizenship for Guest Workers who have been on the CNMI for more than five years—and a Green Card for all workers with children who are US Citizens.

2. Outline a clear appeals process for any worker denied Immigration Status and/or other rights by the local CNMI Government through new or existing Federal systems of appeals.

3. Mandate that all CNMI entry visa programs—both work and tourist—are run by the Federal Government. (To allow the local CNMI Government to run a tourist visa program is to allow human trafficking.)

4. Mandate random, spot check interviews of guest workers and tourists as they arrive and leave the CNMI to ensure that they were (and are not) victims of abuse.

Sometimes it's hard to find solutions to the worst problems on earth. This one has been handed to us on a silver platter. Let's not miss this chance to do something tremendous.

UPDATE: The hearing is over. The most interesting part was learning that a similar bill was introduced in the House.