By Jayvee L. Vallejera

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 6) – So, was the name of a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands nonresident worker you know inadvertently included on the no-hire list of the Department of Labor? I know of two; legally employed nonresident workers, with valid entry permits, who inexplicably landed on the list. In fact, one of them had just gotten her entry permit a few days before the list's publication. Luckily for them, they had all the necessary documents so they just showed up at Labor and their names were stricken from the list pronto. There were scores more who were also mistakenly included on the list, prompting a horde of panicking alien workers trooping to Labor to clarify their labor and immigration status.

Embarrassing as the mistakes may have been for Labor, I think the publication of the list is a step in the right direction. The presence of illegal alien workers on the islands has been one of the more mystifying aspects of the labor and immigration situation here in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. For such as small community, with relatively secure exit and entry points, the presence of illegal aliens is a baffling phenomenon. Of course, it's not in the scale of the illegal immigration situation in the U.S. mainland with their millions of unaccounted for "visitors" but it's not as if the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is abutting another country, with porous borders through which illegal aliens are streaming through. For heaven's sake, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is in the middle of the ocean, hundreds of miles away from our nearest neighbor! It has a very secure border, an impregnable moat comprising miles and miles of open water that defies the ability of any man to swim over, not to mention the toothy sharks that teem beneath such waters. Its points of entry are very limited, with only three international airports and one major seaport providing the doors through which all entries and exits are monitored. It would be logical to assume then that there would be no illegal aliens here, yet that is not the case.

The fact that some names were mistakenly included on the list is indeed troubling, and some quarters are already questioning the legal implications of the list and whether what Labor did is legal or not. Be that as it may, it could only lead to a better list. With current technological advances, I don't see any major obstacle toward this end. A computer program that matches Immigration records with Labor records should be easy to fashion. Wasn't that the point of the US$720,000 Department of the Interior granted in 2004 for the automation of the labor and immigration information system? Prior to that, in 2003, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands got US$355,000, also from the Interior and also for the same purpose. That's more than a million dollars spent just for the automation system at Labor and the Division of Immigration. (You'd think that, with that much spent on the system, Immigration should have already alerted Labor to the number of alien workers who have actually already left the islands but were still on the list, yet I know of three whose names were on the list but who are now, in fact, in Houston, London and Canada.)

If there is anything that came out of this mix-up, it is the need for more efficient collaboration between Labor and Immigration, so that mistakes like this one are minimized, if not altogether eliminated. The list's initial publication and the mistakes attendant to it were almost inevitable, given that this was the first time it was made public but Labor and Immigration should get better at this during subsequent publications. They have already flushed out those who, based on their records, are illegal aliens but are actually legally staying here in the Commonwealth. This will narrow down the list to the actual illegal aliens, giving both agencies a better grip on the ones they need to track down and deport. Of course, the list may also lead to illegal aliens burrowing deeper into the woodwork to escape the attention of authorities but it lessens the number of their hiding places, as employers will be more reluctant to hire them due to the attendant fines and penalties that will be imposed if they are found harboring these workers.

As for those whose names were mistakenly included on the list, I see no issue with that. If you are a legal alien, with all the papers to prove it, what is there to be afraid of? You don't have anything to worry about. Just go to Labor with the necessary documentation and they will have no reason not to strike your name from the list.

[Jayvee L. Vallejera is editor of the Saipan Tribune.]

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