CNMI Leaders Suggest Ways To Stop Birth Tourism

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Inos, Sablan write to DHS on proactive screening of passengers

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov 29, 2013) – Seven months after jointly raising "birth tourism" concerns with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) sent another letter to DHS early this week but this time with specific suggestions to curb the problem such as requiring "all" airlines flying to the CNMI to adopt the pre-screening and other strategies that charter tour flights have developed to deter travel to the islands for the sole purpose of giving birth to an automatic U.S. citizen.

Many of those who come to Saipan solely for birth tourism—mostly from China—do so by boarding a signatory airline, Asiana Airlines, and not through charter tour flights. Asiana Airlines picks up passengers from Korea.

This is because charter companies that fly directly between China and the CNMI "proactively screen" their passengers to ensure compliance with parole conditions such as travel for the authorized purpose of tourism and on-time departure, the governor and delegate said.

Since 2009, tourists from China and Russia are allowed to visit the CNMI without a U.S. visa pursuant to the DHS secretary’s use of parole authority.

Inos and Sablan said record of experience shows that companies operating charter tour flights have been most successful in ensuring that tourists meet the parole program’s requirements.

"As far as we know from industry data, these charter operators have a low rate of entry refusal and a high rate of timely departure," Inos and Sablan said in their joint Nov. 25 letter to DHS acting secretary Rand Beers.

A copy of the letter was made available only yesterday, although Sablan confirmed a letter was forthcoming, during an interview last Sunday.

The federal government, through DHS and its component agencies, now control CNMI borders.

The governor and the delegate said while only DHS has the official entry and exit data with which to evaluate the record industry-wide, what appears true for the charter tour flights many not hold for all airlines providing services for Chinese tourists to the CNMI.

Thus, we would like to encourage the Department—and CBP [Customs and Border Protection] in particular—to take a look at pre-screening and other strategies developed by the charter operators and confirm their effectiveness. Upon this analysis the Department might consider requiring the adoption of these best practices by all carriers transporting visitors to the Northern Marianas under the parole program," Inos and Sablan said.

They said improving airline procedures in this way could benefit DHS and CBP by helping to ensure that travel under parole is done only for the authorized purposes, thereby making the most effective use of CBP officers’ time at the ports of entry and allowing CBP to better prioritize its local resources.

The governor and delegate said improvements based on experience would also further solidify confidence in the parole program itself, which has already resulted in Chinese tourists accounting for 26 percent of all arrivals in the CNMI and ranking second in terms of economic impact.

They added that refining the parole program would also support the president’s National Tourism and Travel Strategy, which is meant in part to encourage tourism from rapidly developing countries, such as China.

DHS’ decision to waive U.S. visa requirement for Chinese and Russian tourists has brought substantial tourism economic activities to the CNMI.

But once DHS decides to lift that waiver, the impact on the CNMI would be devastating.

In a previous interview, Sablan said the CNMI also would not want to catch the ire of the Chinese government, which can easily put a stop to the flow of Chinese tourists to the Commonwealth.

Their Nov. 25 letter is a follow up to their April 18, 2013 letter to then DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, thanking her for her decision to use parole authority to allow tourists from China and Russia to enter the CNMI without U.S. visa.

"These tourists have become the cornerstone of economic recovery in our islands; and the multi-year track record demonstrates that the parole program can coexist with United States security interests," they said.

Inos and Sablan’s letter, however, also expressed concern about the use of the CNMI as one of the many places in the United States attracting so-called birth tourism from China.

"And we urged Customs and Border Protection vigilance. We want to share with you now our further observation in this regard," they said in this week’s letter to DHS’ Beers.

"Birth tourism" refers to travel for the purpose of giving birth to an automatic U.S. citizen child in the CNMI or any other U.S. state or territory.

The United States is one of a few countries that observe jus soli, which grants automatic citizenship to children born within its territory, regardless of the parents’ nationality or citizenship.

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