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Virgin Islands helps Mariana Islands with sweatshop woes; 8th in a 21st Century American Colonies series

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The U.S. Virgin Islands, our Caribbean resort colony, is helping the Mariana Islands, America's sweatshop colony in the Pacific.  The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was acquired by the United States following World War II after Japan lost control of the14-island group.  Saipan and the other Marianas were under U.S. military rule until made a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947.   

The Trust Territory was administered by the United States until the mid-1970's when Congress approved the creation of a Commonwealth.  U.S. citizenship was granted by Presidential Proclamation in 1986.  However, residents of the Mariana Islands were denied a vote in federal elections and unlike the other colonies, also denied a non-voting delegate to Congress.  Further, federal minimum wage laws, immigration laws, and customs laws are void in the Commonwealth.


Large corporations quickly took advantage of the chance to avoid labor laws and still boast "Made in USA" on their products.  The garment industry set up sweatshops all over Saipan and the island was inundated with unregulated immigration to work in the clothing factories.


The sorry conditions in the sweatshops led to an effort in 2000 by the Senate to give relief to the underpaid and overworked labor force.  The labor reform legislation passed the Senate but was killed in the House by the efforts of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who wined and dined Tom DeLay on a golf junket to Saipan.  DeLay killed the bill in the House after touting the success of capitalism in the Marianas.


Unable to vote in federal elections, the U.S. citizens of the Commonwealth lack even a non-voting delegate to Congress.  The Commonwealth's "resident representative" is unable to introduce legislation as can delegates from the other U.S. Territories.


Delegate Donna Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, who is chair of the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, has now introduced legislation to extend federal immigration laws to the Marianas and also provide the Pacific colony with a non-voting delegate.

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H.R. 3079 and S. 1634, its companion bill in the Senate introduced Senator Daniel Akaka, will extend federal immigration laws in the CNMI and provide the colony with the same level of non-voting representation of the other U.S. Territories.


Delegate Christensen told Caribbean Net News, "The CNMI needs stability and the Marianas region needs security.  This bill makes a leap in that direction.  There is real opportunity here to address past abuses and unpredictable immigration policies that did not result in a healthy and productive CNMI economy."


Further, Christensen said, "I have always supported the CNMI in having a voice in Congress.  It is shameful that the CNMI is the only U.S. jurisdiction without representation in Congress.  This issue is simple.  It's about equality and the people of the CNMI should be equally represented alongside their sister territories."


However, the so-called equal representation sought by Delegate Christensen still lacks a vote.  Although territorial delegates may introduce legislation and have limited voting power in committees they ultimately lack any ability to provide consent of the governed.  If H.R. 3079 comes up for a vote in Congress none of the delegates, including sponsor Christensen will be able to vote on the legislation.


Unable to vote for President, unable to vote in federal elections, and unable to be represented by voting members of Congress, the U.S. citizens residing in America's island colonies remain second-class citizens in the 21st Century.

  21st Century American colonies is a series of articles that explore the acquisition, control and status of modern-day colonies of the United States.  Although the colonies are now called "unincorporated territories" the second-class nature of U.S. citizenship of residents of the territories continues to define the colonial status. Permission granted to reprint.
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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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