Where is Saipan?

Nani and Congressman Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan  
Photo by W. L. Doromal ©2010

June 17, 2010

I was glad to see that Congressman Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan has requested that Alan Bersin, Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection educate CBP officers about the authorization documents from CNMI.  Mr. Sablan reported that some travelers from the CNMI including children have been detained by CBP officials who had never seen the travel authorization officials approved by the DHS.

From Congressman Sablan's press release:
“Two of the incidents reported to my office involved minor children,” said Sablan. “They were traveling as members of teams representing the Northern Mariana Islands in national competitions. They had obtained all the necessary documents before leaving the NMI.

“But on arrival in the mainland these children, I am told, were separated from their adult chaperones and held for as much as five hours.

“One group actually missed their connecting flight, putting their participation in the national competition-and the performance of the team from the Northern Mariana Islands-in jeopardy.”

Since the transition to federal control of immigration in the Northern Marianas began on Nov. 28, 2009, foreign nationals who go to any other part of the United States and wish to return to the Commonwealth must apply and receive a travel authorization from the Department of Homeland Security. Apparently, CBP officials at some U.S. borders are having trouble recognizing the validity of the authorizations.

Both of the incidents reported to Sablan occurred at mainland U.S. airports.

“This doesn't seem to be a problem in Hawai'i, where officials are closer to the ongoing immigration transition in the Marianas,” Sablan said.

“But it should not be a problem anywhere.

“We are trying to make the immigration transition as 'least difficult' as possible; and this is just one more kink in the transition that needs to be ironed out.”

Sablan wants Bersin to provide the necessary information and training to border officers to avoid future incidents. And he asked Bersin to provide specific confirmation to the Northern Marianas congressional office that these steps were being taken.

“I understand and fully support the security measures in place at all ports of entry,” Sablan told Bersin.

“However, delay due to lack of knowledge by a CBP officer about types of documentation issued by the Department of Homeland Security is not acceptable, especially when it causes a minor child to be separated from an adult supervisor.”
It seems that the CBP officials should have been trained when the federal takeover took place and any new travel documents were authorized.

Many people really do not know where the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas is and some have never heard of it. I was a little annoyed when I picked up Nani's high school transcript early in the school year and it listed her place of birth as PR (Puerto Rico).  I like Puerto Rico. I have been there twice and may even end up retiring there, but it wasn't where Nani was born.  It was not easy to get the corrections made because no one at her school had heard of the CNMI, Saipan or MP.  Now her transcript lists "Garapan Village, Saipan, CNMI"as her place of birth, and there are at least five educators who know more about the CNMI.

While I expect that U.S. citizens should have some knowledge of basic geography and especially should know all of the U.S. territories, there seems to be no excuse for CBP officials not having this knowledge.  Isn't there a handbook that they can flip through quickly to check?  If not, certainly the action by Congressman Sablan will result in positive changes.

A few weeks ago I remember reading on some CNMI blogs criticisms of foreigners living and working in the CNMI who did not have basic knowledge of such things as the words of the national anthem and failed to understand the protocol for when the song is performed.  Few foreigners come to the U.S. with  basic knowledge concerning such things as the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, or even basic U.S. government and history lessons.  

Was the fact that some foreigners did not know the words to the national anthem or proper protocol a legitimate criticism?  I am not sure that it was. Knowledge is gained by being taught, whether it is through a process of being taught by another person or persons or being self-taught through seeking out what one wants to learn.  This applies to CBP officials and to foreigners who seek U.S. status. 

I have had the privilege of teaching non-English speaking immigrants English and basic U.S. civics through an ESOL night school course.  I had adult students from Cambodia, Columbia, Panama, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and a variety of other countries.   I have also trained some of my service learning students to tutor immigrants to help them to pass the citizenship test.  One thing I learned is that the foreigners, whether they are guest workers, refugees, or immigrants are eager for this knowledge.  So this summer I will be adding a new section to this site to help foreigners in the CNMI gain basic knowledge that every responsible U.S. citizen should know.  


Anonymous said...

Most of the DHS agents dont know where the CNMI is nor do they care.

There are thousands of contract workers in the CNMI who cannot read or write the English language. There are a myriad of forms and applications that will need to be filled out IF some improved status is given. I would suggest that these workers start studying now in order to be ready.

Thousands barely have a means to support themselves much less open up a bank account and prove financial stability to the US Government. This I believe is a requirement for any improved status. Showing up in Los Angeles with twenty bucks is not recommended.

Immigration now in the US is far different from what it was fifty years ago. It is much more difficult to become a US Citizen. The easiest path is money. 500k to a 1000000m can get a college students foot in the door. The other process is a long and difficult one. A foreigner must prove that they will be worthy addition to the US workforce. Thats why Canadian professionals have it easy as well as Western Europeans.

Anonymous said...

When the OCWs from Bangladesh arrived in the NMI in the late 1990s only a couple could speak English. Now every one of them can. Every Filipino speaks English and now more Chinese are learning the language. I give them a lot of credit. How many of us could go to a foreign country and immediately learn the language, customs and protocol? Furthermore, not any of them were ever told that they had a chance to become U.S. citizens so that they have even bothered is a tribute to them.

Anonymous said...

I came back here at mainland, barely a week ago, after 2 months of vacation in Saipan. The polite officer had no problem reading the information from my GC, however I was bothered when he asked me "how long have you been away?". He did not know where Saipan is, and he did not know that going to Saipan is not being away from US territory.