HONOLULU PASSPORT OFFICE HALTS CNMI APPLICATIONS

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By Ulysses Torres Sabuco

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 3) - The U.S. Passport Office in Honolulu has put a hold on the processing of passport applications of some 100 stateless individuals in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, pending the U.S. State department’s Dec. 16 deadline to appeal the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Gov. Juan N. Babauta said yesterday.

On Sept. 17, the appellate court issued a single-line order denying the petition of the State department for a panel rehearing filed in August by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on behalf of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

But part of the U.S. appellate court’s decision is to grant the State department 90 days to review its ruling, and decide whether or not to appeal the case with the U.S. Supreme Court.

This, Babauta said, has prompted the U.S. passport office in Hawaii to only "review" the applications of the stateless individuals.

"The U.S. passport office (here in the CNMI) has indicated that they’ve received over 100 applications. Those applications are treated just like any other application. They are being forwarded to (the) Honolulu office," Babauta told reporters yesterday.

"And indications are that the Honolulu office will certainly review the applications but not act on them until after the Dec. 16 deadline," he added.

Stateless individuals are children born to foreign parents in the CNMI between Jan. 9, 1978 and Nov. 3, 1986. There are over 200 of the estimated 300 stateless individuals who remain in the Commonwealth.

The Governor also said once a final ruling is issued in favor the stateless, a mass swearing in will be held.

Babauta is proposing that a federal official officiate at the swearing-in ceremony.

Babauta said this will accord the stateless individuals the due recognition of their being U.S. citizens.

"We will organize a forum at which we can swear in these individuals as U.S. citizens, and perhaps coordinate with some federal officials already here to have a ceremony that would make this an official swearing-in," Babauta said.

Babauta also said U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana), during his visit last week, also hoped that the State department would not appeal the case.

"We await the Dec. 16 deadline for appeal by the Justice department. We, of course, hope that the State department does not appeal the case. In that case, the (Nine Circuit Court ruling) would stand and we would proceed with making sure that all the individuals get their passport," Babauta said.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision was on the citizenship claims of Jacinto Sabangan Jr., and Esther Hae Jin Sohn and 25 other stateless residents.

The court ruled that Sabangan and company were U.S. citizens by virtue of their birthplace.

As part of the Ninth Circuit ruling, the CNMI government early last month instructed all local government agencies to accord these individuals "all privileges" they currently provide to other U.S. citizens residing in the Commonwealth.

November 3, 2004

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