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


The campaigners' goal was for the United States to take control over Northern Mariana Islands' immigration.

Time period notes

It is not clear exactly when the campaign started. Community members were writing letters in "early 2007".

Time period

May, 2007 to May, 2008


Northern Mariana Islands

Location City/State/Province

Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • in support of Federalization
  • debates in local newspapers

Methods in 2nd segment

  • debates in local newspapers

Methods in 3rd segment

  • debates in local newspapers

Segment Length

2 months


Congressional Representative Tina Sablan, Wendy Doromal (human rights activist)


Attorney Mark Hanson, Bonifacio Sagana, Stephen Woodruff, Gerry Custodio, Rod Hodges

External allies

Human Rights Watch, Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary David B. Cohen, Congressional Representative Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands); United States lobbyists

Involvement of social elites

Federal labor ombudsman Jim Benedetto, U.S. Representative Tina Sablan helped organize some of the campaign


Northern Mariana Islands Governor Benigno R. Fitial

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

Not Known

Repressive Violence

Not Known


Economic Justice
Human Rights



Group characterization

human rights activists
community members
Foreign workers
Congressional Representatives

Groups in 1st Segment

Congressional Representative Tina Sablan
Wendy Doromal (human rights activist)

Groups in 2nd Segment

Representative Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands)
Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary David B. Cohen

Groups in 4th Segment

Bonifacio Sagana
Stephen Woodruff
Federal labor ombudsman Jim Benedetto
United States lobbyists

Groups in 5th Segment

Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary David B. Cohen (Exit)

Groups in 6th Segment

Human Rights Watch
Attorney Mark Hanson
Gerry Custodio
Ron Hodges

Additional notes on joining/exiting order

It is not clear when Tina Sablan and Wendy Doromal stepped in as leaders of the campaign (especially since the start of the campaign is unclear). Additionally, Representative Christensen and Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary David B. Cohen wrote legislation on the matter but it is unclear exactly when they proposed it; they did, however, definitely propose it prior to the 4th segment.

Segment Length

2 months

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The U.S. did federalize the islands' immigration system which was the original goal.

All existing infrastructure survived.

Although the Unity March did gain the support of the United States and its lobbyists, actions after the Unity March did not gain the attention of nearly as many participants (dropping from approximately 10,000 to approximately 100 with the next large-scale action).

Database Narrative

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.


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