Monday, January 28, 2008
Absurd interpretation (or why is this man hiding his face?)
The banner headline of today's Marianas Variety (Monday, Jan. 28, 2008) screamed, "Willens:Guest workers have to leave NMI 2 years after federalization". According to the story, Mr. Willens, a lawyer supposedly of some repute, said "during a forum held at Porky’s Beach Bar in Garapan" that under the legislation before the U.S. Congress providing for the Federal government to assume control over immigration in the CNMI, "guest workers may remain here until the end of their contracts 'but no longer than two years after' the law’s enactment."
Mr. Willens disingenuously covered this assertion with a (strained) patina of good faith by maintaining that the "transition program" of the Federal legislation is "among its most controversial provisions," that this is "due to differences in interpretation," and that these differences in interpretation depend on whether an individual favors or opposes the bill.
One thing is clear, the difference in interpretation advanced by Mr. Willens could only be entertained by someone opposed to the bill and thus desiring to sow fear and confusion in the community with a perverse (and feeble) aim of undermining the chances of the Federal legislation becoming law (or an even more perverse desire to inflict emotional distress on foreign workers).
Coming on the heels of former representative Cinta Kaipat's letter to the editor (apparently written by someone else) falsely claiming the Federal legislation calls for the deportation of every foreign worker presently in the Commonwealth within five years, this latest disinformation and propaganda gives pause, especially as it hints at the possibility of an orchestrated campaign by government officials and some others to mislead the public for the narrow ends of special interests.
The long and the short of it is that Mr. Willens picked particular language in the bill, isolated it from the rest of the provisions, disregarded the purpose and structure of the bill, and ignored the legislative history to produce the frightening scenario trumpeted by the Variety's headline. This approach offends several fundamental principles of statutory construction, including the plain language of the bill's text.
One of these is the principle that a statute is not to be interpreted to produce an absurd result. The idea that all workers presently in the Commonwealth would be required to depart within five or two years is a patently absurd result. This is especially so when the bill contains so many express references to promoting the CNMI economy and ensuring availability of an adequate workforce.
Other principles of statutory construction offended by Mr. Willens's misinterpretation are those which require that a statute be interpreted as a whole, and that no provision be disregarded.
The provision that Mr. Willens was absurdly interpreting simply provides for continued validity of immigration status provided by CNMI authorities for a limited period of time following assumption of immigration control by Federal authorities. During this period, persons with lawful status under CNMI law would retain that status and be able to transition into one of the statuses becoming available under "federalization."
There are at least three such statuses:
(1) the CNMI-only guest worker program, which is essentially the existing system under federal control and decision-making rather than CNMI, and will eventually be phased out,
(2) H-1 nonimmigrant status, which will be widely available because there will be no numerical limitations for the CNMI or Guam, and
(3) employment-based immigrant status (most difficult, but available).
It is certainly fitting that Mr. Willens's unsupportable interpretation of the Federal legislation was made at a "forum" at a bar ... and one that is already subject to a boycott for its owner's unethical practices in support of political agendas (in particular the Saipan Casino Act), at that.