I love debate. Back-and-forth, refuting, attacking and defending, marshaling facts to back the opposing sides. It's even better when I haven't made up my mind.
That's where I am on the 'federalization' of immigration. Saipan's a mess, with too many contract workers grabbing for the brass ring. Rota and Tinian too, but not nearly as bad. Local jobseekers are feeling hostile and left out. I'll give you that. However, is U.S. control the best way off of the merry-go-round?
Have its proponents done their homework? Really, the bureaucracy, the backlogs, the leakage and the outright failures should give you pause. Somebody please convince me that the U.S. system, as it stands, doesn't need to be changed. I really want to hear that story.
Meanwhile, the higher minimum wage is percolating through the economy. In the long run, that's what's going to encourage local employment. It already has. The new labor law, whatever you think of it, is also having that effect.
I've read and heard complaints about how Saipan is pictured in Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy by John Bowe. The book doesn't paint a pretty picture, but it's basically fair. The critics overlook the first three-quarters of the book, written about abuses in the U.S. It's cynical and hypocritical to sip your Florida orange juice and criticize the local system.
The Department of Labor was a cesspool when I used to write about it. Immigration wasn't much better. I'm not there every week any more, but I don't see that today. I do see abuses being reported by the local government, by various federal agencies and by NGO's. I see that in mainland papers, I see it regularly on Guam in the Pacific Daily News and the Marianas Variety.
Okay, tell me a fair system can never be administered locally. We'll have a debate.
Some employers are evil. Everywhere. The only answer is to whack them with a big stick. In our part of the world we have another problem. Some of our investors just don't know about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Ignorance is no excuse, of course, but they need to be educated when they move in. To me, that's at least as important as the briefing new contract workers are getting now.
Saipan Chamber of Commerce President Jim Arenovski and his '4 reasons why S.2483 won't work for us' (Saipan Tribune) got me started on this again*. His and/or Lynn Knight's arguments about the lousy “H” worker system had me nodding in agreement.
All right, so I was looking around for someone to hoot and holler with when I read that the bill would “artificially cause the CNMI's population to decline over the next four and a half years”. Nope, there's nothing artificial about local unemployment while half of the workforce is contract labor. But that's what happens when you try to add one more argument to bolster your cause.
I love Russian tourists. They've got money and they're repeat customers if you treat them right. They usually stay for weeks, not for days. I like the Chinese. That's where the proposed legislation worries me most. Tourism in the U.S. has taken a big hit since 9-11. Surf the internet and you'll see how much. We need new markets, not new roadblocks.
Education looks promising, but tourism is basically it. Schools would have the same visa problems in the federal system.
Factories are just a fantasy on an island with limited population. What's your competitive advantage? Resources? Sea, sand and coconuts, good for a tourism factory (aka hotel) and a small, sustainable fishery. Location? Ha. Low wages, or a temporary loophole? We've been there, and done that.
Here's a challenge for you: try to find out about the Commonwealth on the U.S. Department of Labor website. The Minimum Wage Laws in the States for instance. Other than the minimum wage poster and a few reports, I found nothing. Now tell me the U.S. immigration law will be fine-tuned if it causes problems here.
Coming soon, the debate I've never heard: how much development, and for who?
*Well, there were four in the second paragraph. The body of the article has “First off” and “Secondly” but gets kind of muddled in the end. It probably needs some editing.