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By Liberby Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 15) – The so-called "stateless" individuals in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are now considered U.S. citizens after the U.S. government chose not to appeal their case, according to the Attorney General's Office yesterday.

"The U.S. government decided not to appeal (the decision of the 9th Circuit Court case granting U.S. citizenship to these individuals). It means that these kids are now U.S. citizens," said assistant attorney general James Livingstone in an interview yesterday.

He said he confirmed this with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C. as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office on Guam.

Stateless persons are individuals born to non-U.S. parents in the CNMI from Jan. 9, 1978 to Nov. 4, 1986. They failed to obtained U.S. citizenship, as this was the intervening period between the adoption of the Covenant and its implementation.

The U.S. Supreme Court had given the Department of Justice a maximum extension of 60 days or up to Feb. 13 to appeal a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling favoring the granting of U.S. citizenship to stateless individuals in the CNMI.

In the absence of an appeal, the Court of Appeals' decision issued in July 2004 becomes final and executory. "It decision becomes enforceable," said Livingstone.

The case is officially referred to as Secretary of State Colin Powell vs. Jacinto A. Sabangan et al.

Stateless individuals reached for comments yesterday by the Saipan Tribune were in shock-with most of them having waited for 20 years or so for this moment that they didn't know how to handle the situation when told of the good news.

One screamed, others were speechless; others were still in shock, calling and sending text messages repeatedly to check the information.

Extremely overjoyed and ecstatic, Ruth Roland Bigalbal, 26, could not help but give a long scream upon hearing the news, and in between gasps, said, "Oh my goodness, it's like being in jail all my life and for the first time, I'm seeing sunlight."

Catching her breath, she said, "That scream, that scream is thank you, Lord, thank you Lord indeed!"

Still in euphoria, she went on, "It's like being in jail, okay, and you can't see the sunlight-you've never seen the sunlight, and now you're just looking at the sun for the first time. That's how I feel. It's like seeing the ocean for the first time in my whole life, seeing the stars for the first time," she said.

Matt Elbo, 25, who texted and called several times to recheck the information, said, "It's unbelievable. We're extremely happy. We've been waiting for this."

"I'm so proud. It's the greatest Valentine's day gift," he said.

Elbo and his sister Evelyn were born in 1979 and 1981, respectively.

Randy Mendoza, 22, who has acted as leader of the stateless group, was at his work at Northern Marianas College and sounded very calm when reached.

"Who said that? Is there a document? I'm very excited but until I get my passport, that's the time...," he said.

A few minutes later, Mendoza called back to say, "I'm just speechless," asking further questions to clarify the source of the information, and the possibility of any postmarked appeal that may have been sent by any other group to the Supreme Court.

At home, Mendoza's mother, Elizabeth, was on cloud nine.

"I'm so proud for my children. I'm so excited I want to cry," she said.

She said she has three "stateless" sons: Randy, born in 1982; Ryan, born in 1984; and Raymond, born in May 1986.

Gov. Juan N. Babauta could not be reached for comments, but his legal counsel Steve Newman said, "The governor is extremely pleased."

Ninth Circuit Judge John T. Noonan, in his decision on July 1, 2004, ruled that "anyone born in the U.S. automatically becomes U.S. citizens" He said this is embodied in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which is applicable in the CNMI.

Noonan's decision reversed an earlier denial handed down by the U.S. District Court in the CNMI on the Sabangan case.

Under the 9th Circuit's decision, U.S. citizenship covers only those born in 1978 onwards because it was the year when the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution came into effect in the CNMI.

Mendoza said there are about 200 'stateless' individuals who are currently on island.

Initial estimates showed there were 300 of them, but Mendoza said that some of them are already married or have left the island.

The Executive Branch earlier planned to hold a special ceremony recognizing the stateless persons in the CNMI as U.S. citizens.

February 15, 2005

Saipan Tribune

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