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Rep. Babauta invites Hawaiian counterparts to see first hand CNMI's conditions

By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (March 31, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---State legislators in Hawai‘i have filed a resolution urging the U.S. House of Representatives to act swiftly on legislation that will extend federal immigration laws to the CNMI to correct what they described as continuous abuse of foreign workers here.

At least 15 House members of the 20th Legislature of Hawai‘i signed the measure when it was introduced on March 15, and it now is under review by the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, according to CNMI officials.

But a CNMI lawmaker criticized the move, saying it is premised on "sensationalistic media reports of indentured slavery" on the island that has been rectified through reforms and private sector initiatives.

House Floor Leader Oscar M. Babauta said the Hawai‘i measure runs contrary to the "true sentiments" of the indigenous people and urged the committee to visit the island to see working conditions here.

The Hawai‘i resolution noted with alarm recent efforts in the Commonwealth to change local labor laws, including the lifting of the ban on the hiring of guest workers coming from neighboring Asian countries.

It also cited reports of labor abuses and human rights violations in garment and other industries in the CNMI, which its sponsors compared to social and political conditions in South Africa at the height of apartheid policy.

House Resolution 123 described conditions in the CNMI as "encouraging racist psychology in the local indigenous population."

Noting the passage of a bill in the U.S. Senate seeking federal takeover of local immigration, it criticized the CNMI government for allegedly opening its doors to more foreign workers.

This shows a "total lack of good faith and good intentions," stated the resolution.

S. 1052, offered by Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chair Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawai‘i) and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), was passed last month and is now under consideration by the House in Washington.

It will seek full application of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act to the CNMI over a nine-year transition period. Under the present system, local immigration is not subject to federal laws as part of its Covenant agreement with the United States government.


Mr. Babauta, however, defended the island from such accusations, noting the strides made in recent years to improve working conditions of guest workers in the CNMI.

"It would seem prudent though that your committee visit the Northern Marianas to see first hand realistic conditions in our apparel industry and compare them based on hard facts versus sensationalistic articles so written to permanently ruin one of the two major economic sectors in the CNMI," he said in a letter to Rep. Eric Hamakawa, chair of Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs.

"It would seem most appropriate too that island leaders in the Pacific work towards mutual goals in advancing the livelihood of their constituencies over hurtful and regressive measures," added the CNMI representative.

Commonwealth officials and business leaders have opposed S. 1052 because of its devastating impact on the local economy which relies on foreign manpower due to a limited resident labor pool.

It is the first legislation that passed one chamber of Congress that has involved amendments to the Covenant, the 20-year old accord with the U.S. that guarantees self-governing status for the Northern Marianas.

Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio has implemented several reform measures in the last two years, including a labor moratorium, in an effort to appease Washington, but these have largely been ignored by the federal government.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.



Saipan Tribune Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands

March 31, 2000

The Hawai‘i Resolution

At Issue: The Hawai‘i State Legislature's resolution supporting federalization of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Our View: It's uncalled for though we have a suspicion who's the architect behind such a measure.

It's comically interesting how the Hawai‘i State Legislature worked up the courage to support federalization of the NMI. Was the adoption of the measure premised on factual information or half-facts? And isn't this measure a meddlesome sentiment that runs against the grain of the sentiment of the indigenous people here?

It should dawn on sponsors of the resolution that like Hawai‘i, the NMI has its rights to self-government, including its economic freedom. The issue of a federal takeover is far from all the misinformation hurled against the NMI since 1993. It bogs down to special interest (textile labor unions in California and elsewhere) versus the economic livelihood of the people of these islands.

It boggles the mind too that the measure apparently leaves the impression that the Hawai‘i State Legislature subscribes to the Glass House Syndrome when its own history is riddled with indentured slaves in its sugar cane plantation. It would seem appropriate that rather than approving a resolution supporting economic annihilation of the NMI, it should first clear its own record by restoring the dignity of Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos employed in its sugar industry.

Hawai‘i is the most highly unionized and regulated state in the country. This is a major setback that needs to be addressed and resolved. In other words, this should be the focus of the Hawai‘i State Legislature rather than falling prey to a meddlesome resolution that meets the needs of textile labor unions in California. What about the livelihood of simple islanders in the NMI?

Speaker Benigno R. Fitial has fired off a letter to the Aloha State Legislature to come out and see for themselves if in fact slavery is a daily reality in the NMI. Perhaps taking a tour of the apparel industry here would forever silence critics, especially those who treat distorted media reports that have conveniently presented half-facts when linked to the popular and often misconstrued issue of human rights.

In your conscience, is it Hawaiian Value to kill Jose so George can live? Isn't value supposed to enhance and enrich the livelihood of mankind? Nothing can be further from the truth!

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