Saipan Tribune: A thousand new residents

President Donald J. Trump yesterday signed H.R. 559 into law, saving the immigration status and livelihood of 1,039 individuals who have worked in the CNMI for decades and call the islands their second home.

H.R. 559, or the Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act, provides a legal remedy for the 1,039 long-term humanitarian parolees and their families—people who are under the categorical parole program and those holding employment authorization documents—by granting them CNMI resident status within the Commonwealth.

Trump’s decision to sign the bill ends almost five months of hearings, lobbying, and efforts to pass the immigration legislation in the U.S. Congress.

News of the enactment of H.R. 559 spread quickly in the CNMI community.

John and Feng, two of the 1,039 individuals who are eligible to avail of the CNMI-only resident status and asked to be named only through aliases, welcomed the news. They have been legally working in the CNMI since the mid 2000s and were later given humanitarian parole.

All legal workers in the CNMI were given umbrella permits as immigration and labor laws began to transition to federal statutes in 2009, while waiting for regulations under the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker visa to be formulated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

After the regulations were set, employers applied for CW-1 permits for their workers while those who failed to get jobs or companies that would hire them applied for humanitarian parole—especially those who have children born in the Commonwealth, spouses or immediate relatives of Freely Associated States citizens, stateless individuals who were born before the enactment of the Covenant, and caregivers.

“Thank you very much, Lord!” was John’s first words when contacted by the Saipan Tribune yesterday. “I’m now relieved. The stress and sleepless nights worrying about our status are over.”

John, Feng, and the other 1,037 individuals who are under the categorical parole program and EAD holders would have been forced to leave the CNMI if Trump did not sign H.R. 559 before June 29. USCIS terminated the program in December last year but gave the 1,039 affected individuals until June 29 to obtain other U.S. legal and work-related visas.

For John, it was a gamble that paid off. He took the chance of waiting for the legislation to become law. “I just gambled. I just took the chance to wait for President Trump to sign the bill. I just really prayed and waited that we could get improved status.”

Feng also welcomed the news. “I’m very happy and also relieved. I have three kids who were all born here. Itos [Feliciano] has been one of those who have helped us in our situation. He explained to us what’s been happening with the bill.”

Feliciano, one of the individuals who helped organize the foreign workers under the program, thanked all CNMI officials that helped in having the bill signed into law. “I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who helped push H.R. 559 into law: Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, [Delegate] Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan, chief of staff Angel Demapan, Irene Holl, and to all who believed, supported and prayed for it to happen. We are forever grateful…”

The new law applies to all immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and other stateless individuals, CNMI permanent residents and their IRs, IRs of citizens of Freely Associated States (the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau), and certain in-home caregivers of CNMI residents.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) introduced H.R. 559 last Jan. 15. It passed the House on June 3. The Senate acted on it on June 24 via voice vote and then headed to Trump for signing.

NMI officials grateful

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said Trump signing the bill into law is the result of months of hard work with the parolees, their families, the White House, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“My office, through…Jason Osborne, and I have been closely working with the White House for an expedient approval of the bill since Congress passed it a week ago,” said Torres in a statement. “I’m grateful that the President took the time to listen to our concerns in order to protect our economy and the many families who have called the Marianas home.”

He also thanked Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) for her help in the Senate and the combined efforts of Sablan and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) in the House to get the bill passed.

He also credits the private sector and community leaders for helping.

“This truly is another shared victory for the Marianas,” he said.

Among those eligible to earn the benefits of the new law are 800 spouses and parents of U.S. citizens, 50 in-home caregivers, five persons born in the Commonwealth before the Covenant, and persons who had been given permanent resident status under CNMI law in the early 1980s, Sablan said.

“This was the final step in a long, long process that began with [the bill’s] introduction on Jan. 15. …I am so grateful to them all,” said Sablan.

CNMI House Federal and Foreign Affairs chair Rep. Luis John DLG Castro (R-Saipan) said the new bill gives those affected “a little peace of mind.”

“These individuals are not just workers. For many of us, some of them are our friends, neighbors, and even relatives and…[this] gives them assurance that tomorrow is guaranteed for them to continue to make a living here in the Northern Marianas,” he added.

He added that the CNMI still faces many issues. “There are still many issues in this parameter that we…must tackle. And in order for us to square these issues out, we must continue to work in tandem with our governor, our voice in Congress and our federal and local partners.”

Philippine honorary consul to the CNMI Glicerio Arago said the enactment of H.R. 559 is good news for Filipinos in the CNMI. However, he hopes that H.R. 560 will also become law, as it covers about 4,000 other Filipinos.

“There are Filipinos who have worked in the island for 15 to 20-plus years, waiting to be recognized,” Arago said. (With Marc Venus)

By:  Jon Perez
Source: Saipan Tribune