Northern Mariana Islands foreign workers win United States federalization of immigration control, 2007-2008

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
It is not clear exactly when the campaign started. Community members were writing letters in "early 2007".
Location and Goals
Northern Mariana Islands
Location City/State/Province: 
The campaigners' goal was for the United States to take control over Northern Mariana Islands' immigration.

Beginning in early 2007, foreign workers in the Northern Mariana Islands (mainly Saipan, the most populated of the islands) campaigned for the United States government to take control of the Islands' immigration policy. The Northern Mariana Islands are located in the Western Pacific, in the region of Japan and the Philippines.

Although a Commonwealth united with the U.S., the Northern Mariana Islands’ immigration control was under local rule, and the Commonwealth's Governor Fitial planned to keep it that way. Foreign workers believed that this local immigration control resulted in labor and human rights abuses. About one quarter of Saipan’s population was Filipino and worked for extremely low wages. Alleged abuses included forced prostitution, long hours without weekends or holidays, and harsh living conditions.

In order to end these conditions, Filipino workers, along with other workers, human rights activists and other supporters, held a series of protests (including a 10,000-person rally) that supported legislation to place the Northern Mariana Islands’ immigration under U.S. federal control. In congruence with that campaign, islanders protested in a different campaign as well, one that had similar objectives. Specifically, this second campaign was fighting for long-term residency for foreign workers. Some of the actions of the “Federalization campaign” had the dual goal of reforming residency as well (especially in the Unity March).

At the start, the campaign mainly consisted of written documents in local newspapers. The highly organized portion of the campaign peaked with the massive rally in Saipan on December 7, 2007. This rally, entitled the “Unity March”, was the largest protest in the Northern Mariana Islands’ history. U.S. Representative Tina Sablan and human rights activist, Wendy Doromal, organized the march. Other organizers and leaders included Bonifacio Sagana and Stephen Woodruff. In Saipan, protesters marched for 3 miles, finishing the march in the American Memorial Park’s amphitheater. Marchers wore white shirts, tied red ribbons to their arms, and held placards and banners. Such banners contained slogans such as, “Yes to Federalization. Justice for All” and “We Love USA. God Bless America”. Many activists, educators, and writers made speeches at the rally as well.

Foreign workers planned on holding a rally on the smaller island, Rota, on December 7 also, but the police did not show up so the organizers did not push through with the march.

After this large-scale march, many expected the U.S. Federalization Bill to come very soon after. But there was much delay after a lobbyist hired by the Northern Mariana Islands, named Jack Abramoff, worked in Washington DC to thwart progression on the bill.

In early March, workers planned on a general strike to show the government what the economy would look like if human rights abuses persisted. The workers, however, did not follow through with the general strike.

In early April, members of the community held an exploratory discussion regarding the immigration matter. A few days later, 100-200 workers and community members held a prayer vigil in support of the U.S. Senate-sponsored federalization bill, as well as a draft bill granting long-term residency to foreign workers. Organizers and speakers at the prayer vigil included Attorney Mark Hanson, Representative Tina Sablan, and representatives of the Filipino, Chinese, and Bangladeshi communities. At the end of the prayer vigil, attendants signed a petition that they sent to the U.S. Congress, the Human Rights Watch, and Nikolao Pula of the Interior that showed their support for the bills being debated in Congress regarding immigration in the Northern Mariana Islands.

In May, President George W. Bush signed the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, which turned Northern Mariana immigration control over to the United States government. The actual takeover by the United States began November 28, 2009.

Research Notes

See additional notes.

"U.S. Control of Northern Marianas' Immigration Now Inevitable." Islands Business International. ISite Interactive, Dec. 2007. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.

Hodges, Ron. "Saipan USA Workers Plan General Strike." Web log post. Daily Kos. 5 Mar. 2008. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.<>

"Where Have All the Workers Gone?" Web log post. Saipan Middle Road. 5 Apr. 2008. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.<>.

"Thousands Protest U.S. Labor Reforms in Northern Marianas." Agence France-Presse 8 Dec. 2007. Access World News. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.

Bartels, Lynn. "Activists Say Schaffer Delayed Worker Reforms. Candidate’s Stance on Conditions in Islands Assailed." Rocky Mountain News [Colorado] 30 Sept. 2008. Access World News. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.

"US Takes over Pacific Territory’s Immigration." Agence France-Presse 27 Nov. 2009. Access World News. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.

De La Torre, Ferdie. "Thousands Join Historic March." Saipan Tribune. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.

Misulich, Robert J. "A Lesser-Known Immigration Crisis: Federal Immigration Law In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands." Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal Association 20.1 (2011): 211-35. Print.

Additional Notes: 
This campaign was similar in many regards to the Northern Mariana Islands' campaign to ensure long residency for guest workers, although not the same. The Unity March was a testament to both campaigns.

Additionally, scholarly sources give all the credit to the U.S. lobbyists for getting the Federalization bill passed through Congress.

Another issue many community members in Saipan brought up in blogs was the incredible decrease in attendants at the protests. In April, very few people showed up, relatively speaking. Many thought this was a sign of disunity.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Samantha Bennett, 03/04/2011