Improved Status For CNMI Foreign Workers In US House Bill

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Immigration reform bill has CNMI-specific provisions: Sablan

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 4, 2013) – A provision offering a pathway to U.S. citizenship for thousands of long-term, legal aliens in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is included in an immigration reform bill that Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced on Wednesday, four months since the Senate passage of S. 744.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) is one of 120 co-sponsors of H.R. 15, called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which includes "specific provisions for the Northern Mariana Islands."

Like S. 744, which passed the U.S. Senate in June, HR 15 provides a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and tightens border security.

Sablan, in response to Saipan Tribune questions, said he has worked to be sure that people who were protected under Commonwealth immigration law remain protected under federal law.

"So someone who was born in the Northern Marianas before 1978, or who became a permanent resident under CNMI law, or is part of a U.S.-citizen family will be able to remain in the Northern Marianas—just as we permitted under our own local law. These residents will be able to work and travel and after five years apply for a green card under the bill passed by the U.S. Senate and under the new House bill. Without that, their fate would be uncertain," he said.

HR 15 combines major elements of S. 744 that passed in June with bipartisan border security legislation that won unanimous support in the Homeland Security Committee in May.

"Getting immigration reform signed into law remains an uphill climb. Many people in Congress and around our country are opposed. But I believe the time has come to take action and fix immigration—for our country and for the Northern Mariana Islands; and I will keep working toward that goal," Sablan said.

The delegate also spoke about the need to fix the country’s immigration problem.

Sablan said the situation in the CNMI "is a bit different."

"We do not have the same border security issues and there are few individuals who are out of status. But we do have lots of mixed families. And our businesses also need foreign labor," the delegate said.

He said national immigration legislation is an opportunity to fix those problems.

"We have to make sure, however, that the national policy fits our specific needs. That is why it is so important that any major immigration bill includes unique provisions for the Northern Marianas, as H.R. 15 does," he added.

Bonifacio Sagana, president of Dekada Movement, lauded the efforts to include the CNMI in a House version of an immigration reform bill.

"It’s about time long-term legal aliens in the CNMI are given pathway to improved status. With the economy improving and the need for more labor, it is fitting to grant aliens improved status and eliminate uncertainty in the workforce and the economy. We hope this bill will move forward," Sagana said.

Sablan said S. 744 and H.R. 15 also fix problems for businesses and the CNMI economy that were created when federal immigration came to the islands.

"Right now, businesses don’t even know if they will have any CW workers after 2014. H.R. 15 ends that uncertainty and ends the burden of annual CW applications and fees," he said.

The bill recognizes that the population has already dropped from 80,000 to 50,000 and that the economy cannot afford to lose more consumers and taxpayers.

"So, the bill allows workers, who have lived here since before 2003, to stay. They can work. They can travel off-island. Then—after an additional five years contributing to the Northern Marianas—they can apply to be a U.S. permanent resident, if they want to. That’s fair and it’s good for our economy," Sablan said.

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