Two Harmless Bits of S.744 – Exceptions that Prove the Rule

My CIS colleagues and I have been pointing out, in some detail, all the many faults of the Gang of Eight's all-embracing immigration bill, S.744, and justly so. It is a terrible piece of legislation.

But, on the other hand it is virtually impossible to draft something of this length — it started out at 844 pages and keeps growing — without doing something useful, if only by accident.

I have identified two harmless provisions that sadly will disappear when the bill is finally sunk, as I think it will be, by the House of Representatives.

These deal with two relatively small, and self-contained sub-populations that will, in different ways, remain small and non-difficult for the nation if the S.744 segments dealing with them become law. Both have narrow geographic focuses and have been subject to no national debates. They are to be treated in different, but friendly, manners by the bill.

These are the Canadian snowbirds (who mostly fly to Florida in the winter, but also to the Southwest) and the legally admitted, one-time guestworkers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Of the two groups, the guestworkers who were admitted to the U.S. territory, just north of Guam, are more likely to be legally present, if I can make that point, than some of the Canadians.

The CNMI guestworkers, if ignored in Washington, are a hot topic in the islands because they have the potential of adding a cosmopolitan flavor to local politics, now dominated by the indigenous population. These workers — mostly from the Philippines and China — were admitted to the islands as islands-only temporary migrants in the bad old days when the local pols, many in league with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ran the CNMI's immigration policy. Those policies are now made on the mainland.

The local pols have kept the guestworkers in non-voting status because if and when this group (now of about 12,000) gets to vote they may upset the local power structure. In nearby Guam we see both men and women — Chamorros (the main indigenous group), Haoles (mainlanders), Filipinos, and people of mixed ancestry — all being elected to public office, but in the Marianas elected office has always been the monopoly of Chamorros, usually males.

There was a recent partial exception, a CNMI governor who came from the other indigenous population, the Carolinians. He was Benigno Fitial, a long-time ally of Abramoff, who resigned last year when facing certain impeachment. He was vehemently opposed to citizenship for the guestworkers. (In the days of the Spanish Empire, the overlords brought in people from the Caroline Islands, such as Chuuk, on the grounds that they worked harder than the Chamorros, and as a result, the Marianas had two indigenous populations when the United States took over after WWII.)

Back to current immigration matters: S.744 includes language (in Section 2109) presumably coming from the office of Kilili Sablan, the vote-less member of the U.S. House of Representatives for these islands. It will slowly bring full citizenship status to most of the guestworkers now living in legal limbo on the islands. Alien workers, some of whom have been on Saipan (and the other islands) since 2003 or earlier, will get a five-year-period of CNMI-only temporary legal status after passage of the bill, then five years of green card status before they can apply for citizenship. Illegal aliens in the islands, a completely different population, would be covered by the mainline amnesty in S.744, should it pass.

My friend, Wendy Doromal, a mainlander whose voice is just about the only one these guestworkers have, regards the proposal as about the best these workers can get and so supports it, even though she is quick to point out the people who came illegally to the mainland in 2011 would get roughly the same deal as the CNMI guestworkers who arrived legally eight years earlier. Readers wanting to know more about the lively politics of the CNMI can see her website, "Unheard No More".

The provision for the Canadian snowbirds (Section 4503) is much less complex. For generations, large numbers of Canadians have been fleeing south for the winter, some with less than iron-clad migration status, and then returning north for the late spring and summer. To the extent that this was illegal it was widely ignored by our government, unless some (non-immigration) crime was committed.

The new legal language would allow up to 240 days legal presence in the United States for over-55 Canadians who own or lease a house here and who promise not work or seek U.S. benefits in the States. The current situation is that such persons can stay in the United States for only 182 days. No follow-on migration benefits are provided in S.744 and there is no further stage of this program; it merely legalizes, rather than winks at, a continuing seasonal flow of people.

The benefits provision in Section 4503 is rather pro forma; if you want government-funded health care or money from a pension scheme you are usually better off being a Canadian than an American.

So the Gang of Eight has, in fact, inserted a couple of useful measures into an otherwise deplorable bill.