'Unity march' planned for December 7 | Pacific Beat

'Unity march' planned for December 7

'Unity march' planned for December 7

Updated 21 March 2012, 17:00 AEDT

Opponents of the new local labour law in the CNMI will take their protest to the streets of Saipan on Friday December 7 in what is being described as a 'unity rally'.

Organisers are planning to walk from Kilili Beach, along the beachfront, to the American Memorial Park to show unified support for federal recognition of foreign workers and a repeal of the new law that has quashed hopes for immigration rights for these workers.

WOODRUFF: You know, it's a human rights issue and it's an economic issue and it's just an issue of what we need to do for the welfare of this community and what kind of place we want here. We really don't need legislation like this so-called labour reform bill that really is punitive, its anti-business, it will have negative economic impact and the primary motivation of it is basically to target alien workers that have lived here for 5, 10, 15, 20 years and made enormous contributions to the community and the economy and basically to treat those workers unfairly merely and send them home or whatever, merely because they've been asking to be treated more fairly and more equally than they have in the past.

The call for equal rights, says Stephen Woodruff, has been getting louder in recent years. A former legal counsel to the Comonwealth legislature, he moved into private practice in 2000 to focus on labour and immigration rights. He accepted an invitation to provide legal counsel to the Dekada Movement. Dekada has had smaller version of December 7th's march in the past, the last one in February this year. Mr Woodruff says this movement has grown slowly but surely.

WOODRUFF: This will be the first time any of this magnitude has been organised or this degree of protest against something the legislature has done. But it's not completely unprecedented because from time to time members of the community do make their wishes known. This began a good number of years ago with the Dekada Movement trying to get improved status for long-term alien residents of the Commonwealth because of the significant problems that exist with the labour and immigration system here which has a lot of unfairness built into it. And, one of the local leaders, actually a couple of them, had made public statements acknowledging that this wasn't equitable and it should be addressed, then Dekada began their efforts for improved status, seeking with improved status local laws or US Congress to offer better status and ultimately citizenship fro these long term alien workers. And through this process more and more people joined in the campaign and the effort and more and more voices came out.

Despite the calls for improved status, Public Law 15-108 was passed, essentially blocking the possibility of immigrant status for foreign workers on CNMI. Stephen Woodruff says the move wasn't a surprise.

WOODRUFF: I wouldn't say that it is a surprise for the CNMI legislature to pass ill-considered legislation like this. I was surprised that the House of Representatives passed it unanimously but that has to do with the political dynamic and the people that are involved in holding office right now rather than anything else. Under US law workers that come to the United States, even under the non-immgrant visa programs that are in the US for periods of five or seven years can have that potential pathway to citizenship. And one of the fundamental problems with the CNMI immigration system is there is no opportunity for that.

The Dekada Movement and organisers of the march on December 7th, plan to start their march at 4.30 in the morning and are urging participants to carry flashlights and wear white. Stephen Woodruff hasn't heard if representatives of the legislature will be participating.

Stephen Woodruff, legal counsel to Dekada

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