The Senate voted 91-4 yesterday to apply federal immigration laws to the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and phase out the islands’ exploitative “guest worker” program. A 2006 Ms. expose documented how the guest workers, mostly women, are forced to work long hours for little pay in the island’s garment factories under threat of deportation.
Under the legislation, the US government would take over administration of the guest-worker program within the next year and a half. It would then phase out the program by 2014 unless the CNMI’s governors successfully applied for a five-year extension. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law.
“[The] legislation clos[es] the legal loopholes that have allowed some of the poorest men and women in the world to be lured to the CNMI, abused, and exploited in sweatshops in this American territory,” said Congressman George Miller (D-CA), a long-time advocate of the legislation. The island’s special status was protected for over a decade by now-disgraced former Congressman Tom DeLay and now-jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The bill will now move to the House.
A bill last year raised the minimum wage in the Marianas. Currently $3.55, it will increase by $0.50 every six months until it reaches the US minimum.