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Governor opposes Delegate Sablan’s effort

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 13, 2011) - Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan's bill seeking a grant of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)-only resident status to four groups of aliens is now ready for action by the full U.S. House of Representatives after a second panel approved it on Thursday, even as the Fitial administration said yesterday its "tentative action" may be to file a motion for preliminary injunction against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' decision to grant parole for most of those covered by Sablan's H.R. 1466.

USCIS' grant of this parole is on a case-by-case basis. While there is no deadline for applying for this type of parole, USCIS "strongly recommends" that eligible individuals apply on or before Jan. 31, 2012.

HR 1466 got the U.S. House Committee on Judiciary's approval on Thursday, and was placed on union calendar.

A committee report on the bill says HR 1466 would affect roughly 5,000 to 7,300 aliens legally residing in the CNMI. Sablan's office maintains that this figure is higher than the actual number of aliens covered.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing HR 1466 "would have no significant net cost to the federal government" and enacting the bill "would not affect revenues."

The committee report said based on information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, DHS would charge a fee of US$500 to US$1,000 in 2012 to several thousand applicants for permanent CNMI residence.

"CBO estimates that additional fee collections in 2012 would be less than US$5 million. No significant additional amounts would be collected in 2015 because visas granted to CNMI residents would be offset by a reduction in visas available for other immigrants," the report said.

A day after the Committee on Judiciary approval of HR 1466, USCIS released the application guidelines for this type of parole that, if granted, would allow certain "stateless" individuals and immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to lawfully remain in the CNMI until Dec. 31, 2012.

"If it passes the U.S. House before the end of the year, it will be the greatest Christmas gift that those covered by HR 1466 will receive this year," said Bonifacio Sagana, president of Dekada Movement and a long-time worker advocate in the CNMI.

While not all long-term foreign workers in the CNMI are covered by HR 1466, Sagana said that at least it tries to help four groups of people.

"I am thankful that Kilili's bill continues to move forward.Although we continue to request that there will be improved immigration status for all long-term alien workers in the CNMI," he told Saipan Tribune.

Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta, at the same time, said yesterday he hasn't seen any legislation introduced that reflects Interior's full recommendation for a grant of improved status to long-term aliens in the CNMI.

The recommendations include granting outright U.S. citizenship, permanent residence status, and a grant of status similar to those given to Freely Associated States citizens.

Attorney General Edward Buckingham separately said yesterday that the "tentative action that may be undertaken by the Commonwealth is a motion for a preliminary injunction."

Buckingham emphasized that the status of this matter is that it is currently under review as to both facts and law.

"Accordingly, no final decision has been reached concerning this issue," he said in an email response to questions.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial asked Buckingham to review the facts and law to determine what legal actions, if any, may be appropriate for consideration by the Commonwealth in relation to the USCIS decision.

"A review takes such time as is necessary to reach an appropriate conclusion. No estimate is currently available; however, given the seriousness of this matter, the Commonwealth is proceeding as quickly as possible," he added.

Once HR 1466 hurdles the U.S. House, it will have to pass the U.S. Senate before going to the president's desk for enactment.

Sablan's HR 1466 proposes a "CNMI-only resident status" for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens as of May 8, 2008 and continuing to be on the islands, CNMI permanent residents, those born in the CNMI between Jan. 1, 1974 and Jan. 9, 1978, and the spouses, parents or children of U.S. citizens under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Rene Reyes, president of Marianas Advocates for Humanitarian Affairs Ltd., said yesterday they always welcome any legislation that will help improve the status of guest workers, even if it covers only four groups.

Nevertheless, Reyes hopes that Congress will also act on the Interior's recommendation of granting improved status to all long-term guest workers.

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