April 17, 2013
The CNMI provision in the Senate version of the comprehensive immigration bill would serve the CNMI nonresident workers, the CNMI businesses, and the CNMI economy if the bill is signed into law. Still, this is just the start of a very long process. There remains a very long road ahead. The House version has yet to be released and a final bill would have to pass both the House and Senate in order to reach President Obama's desk. At the very least, we should be encouraged that the Senate has included such a beneficial CNMI provision and should remain hopeful that the House will have the wisdom to follow suit.
The CNMI provision is not perfect, but neither is the entire bill. Perfect would be a provision providing that all of the CNMI legal, longterm nonresident workers would be granted immediate permanent residency status. Perfect is not going to happen.
I share the exact sentiments expressed yesterday by President Obama:
"This bill is clearly a compromise, and no one will get everything they wanted, including me. But it is largely consistent with the principles that I have repeatedly laid out for comprehensive reform. "The CNMI provision would provide for an eventual pathway to citizenship for the legal, longterm nonresidents after a five year waiting period during which qualifying nonresidents would be granted a CNMI-only status. The provision would allow for travel without the restrictive paperwork of the current CNMI-only immigration system. Additionally, it would eliminate the expensive and problematic CW visa process for thousands of longterm nonresidents, while also stabilizing the CNMI workforce to encourage economic growth.
Undocumented aliens in the CNMI would fall under the provisions of the overall immigration bill and would have a longer and more expensive pathway to citizenship. The out-of-status nonresidents that were brought into the CNMI as children by their parents would be covered by the DREAM Act provision, providing that they met the qualifications.
Overall, I am very pleased with the provision. It represents a win-win provision for the CNMI. If eventually passed, it would remove the uncertainty and instability that so many of the CNMI's legal, longterm nonresidents have suffered for years, and even decades. Families would have the threat of separation replaced with security. The provision would allow many CNMI nonresidents to finally realize the American dream that has been out of their reach for so long. Businesses could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they could retain the skilled and loyal employees that helped them to prosper over the years. The CNMI economy could recover and grow.
Appreciation should be given to Congressman Sablan and his staff who worked tirelessly to include the provision for CNMI nonresidents in this legislation. Congressman Sablan's provision is a fair and balanced compromise that should be embraced by the CNMI's individuals, business community and elected officials. It may not totally please those of us who wanted to see a provision that would have granted outright citizenship to the CNMI's legal, longterm nonresidents. It may not totally please those who hoped for no status at all for the nonresidents. However, this provision is a well thought out compromise. It represents the provision that has the best chance of satisfying the many competing interests in the CNMI and of passing the U.S. Congress.
I encourage all CNMI residents, nonresidents, business owners and elected officials to rally behind this bill in one uniform voice. While eight bipartisan members of the Senate support it, that leaves 92 others to convince, as well as, 435 House members, many of whom must be persuaded to support immigration reform. With one uniform voice, the provision will have a greater chance of passage.
The alternative - no passage of the bill- would create a bleak scenario for everyone in the CNMI. No change could mean deeper economic gloom, more business loss and the continued suffering and uncertainty for nonresidents and their families.
The following is a summary of the CNMI provision:
This bill establishes a CNMI-only status for certain individuals residing in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Group 1 - persons born in the CNMI between January 1, 1974 and January 9, 1978;
Group 2 – persons granted CNMI permanent resident status under CNMI immigration law;
Group 3 – the spouse or child of Group 1 or Group 2;
Group 4 – the immediate family members of U.S. citizens, regardless of age
Group 5 - foreign workers in the CNMI who were admitted under CNMI immigration law –
• 5 years prior to May 8, 2008;
• who have lived and worked in the Northern Marianas continuously since that time through date of enactment; and
• are presently in the Northern Marianas under CW-1 status;
Group 6 - the spouse and children of individuals in Group 5 who are currently present in the Northern Marianas under CW-2 status. CNMI-only status requires that the individual:
• be a member of one of the groups described above;
• be lawfully present or paroled in the Northern Marians under federal immigration law;
• be otherwise admissible under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act;
• have resided in the CNMI continuously from May 8, 2008 (effective date of P.L.110- 229) through the date of enactment of this Act;
CNMI-only status grants eligible individuals: the right of entry and exit to foreign countries and the rest of the U.S.; and for Groups 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, the ability to petition for lawful permanent residence when specific conditions are met.
• eligible individuals have a specified number of days to petition for CNMI-only status
• individuals unlawfully present in the Northern Marianas are excluded from eligibility for adjustment under this legislation;
• individuals granted CNMI-only status are not eligible for public assistance for which they are not otherwise entitled;
• Citizens of the Freely Associated States are excluded from eligibility to adjust status under this legislation.
UPDATE Statement from Janet Napolitano on the Senate bill:
“I am pleased by the work of the bi-partisan group of United States Senators to reform and modernize our nation’s immigration laws. The introduction of this legislation is an important step that reflects significant momentum toward building the 21st century immigration system that our nation needs.
Over the past four years, this Administration has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology, and resources to the Southwest border, and while challenges will always remain, every metric we use to measure border security shows significant progress and improved quality of life at the border. Commonsense immigration reform will build on this historic progress, enhancing border security, facilitating lawful trade and travel, reuniting families and promoting economic growth.
I welcome the Senate’s decision to act now on this issue of critical importance to our national and economic security and look forward to working closely with Congress in the coming weeks to build a firm, fair and effective enforcement system, based on the rule of law.”