House Passes Bill to Reform the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

From the Natural Resources Committee:

Rahall: CNMI Bill 'Puts to Rest' Degrading Era of Garment Industry Abuses

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives today approved comprehensive legislation — shepherded by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) and Insular Affairs Subcommittee Chairwoman Donna Christensen (D-VI) — to reform the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) immigration system, addressing nearly two decades of mounting concerns about CNMI immigration policy and years of political maneuvering by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

“With enactment of this legislation, the dismal and degrading era of slave labor, forced prostitution, and other horrific worker abuses by employers of the CNMI garment industry will be put to rest,” Rahall said. “We should all loathe that such a system was allowed to flourish, and that a corrupt lobbyist was able to stand in the way of reforms needed to secure for these workers the basic human rights we all deserve.”

The abuse of foreign guest workers by their employers had been documented over the years in stories by national media, reports by human rights organizations, complaints from foreign governments, and by the Committee's former Chairman, George Miller (D-CA). Under the Republican-controlled Congress, efforts to reform the CNMI's local immigration system halted when disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff used his influence to prevent the legislation from advancing in the House.

The Northern Mariana Islands Immigration, Security and Labor Act (ISLA) (H.R. 3079), introduced by Christensen and sponsored by Rahall, would extend U.S. immigration laws to the CNMI and establish a federally administered guest worker program on the island. The legislation responds to a number of outstanding issues raised by the Congress, the people of the CNMI, and successive administrations beginning with President Reagan.

Further, immigration concerns are central to our nation's domestic security. The measure will help to tighten our borders against smugglers and terrorists who seek to gain access to the mainland through the territories.

Christensen said, “It is no secret that over the last 20 years, the CNMI came under great criticism for its immigration policies which left the territory with a nationwide, if not also an international, reputation — making this legislation necessary on several fronts. H.R. 3079 would provide a stable immigration policy to rebuild the CNMI economy and give the CNMI representation in Congress.”

The legislation would also authorize a non-voting Delegate to represent the CNMI in the U.S. House of Representatives. Similar legislation has passed the Natural Resources Committee with broad bipartisan support more than once in previous Congresses.

House Democrats have been urging reform for years, see background from Rep. George Miller, a leader in the fight for fair labor standards in the Commonwealth.

Read the text of the bill >>

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