April 21, 2013
S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, had its first hearing on April 19th. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) objected to the "rush" to get the bill passed and attempted to tie the issue to the Boston tragedy. The Boston bombing suspects came to the U.S. as legal child immigrants over a decade ago. Trying to link the tragedy to the immigration reform legislation and use that as a delay tactic is not sensible or justifiable.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary will hold a second full committee hearing on April 22nd. A diverse panel of witnesses is scheduled to testify, including Arturo Rodriquez, President of the United Farm Workers, and Jack Abramoff's co-conspirator, Grover Norquist, President Americans for Tax Reform. A mark up hearing may take place as early as May.
CNMI elected officials and the business community are backing the CNMI provision in the 844-page immigration reform bill. Governor Eloy Inos said that the CNMI provision is "good for the CNMI economy." From The Marianas Variety:
“We hope that our delegate will continue to work and collaborate with other members of Congress so that we can achieve the desired goal which is to allow for an eventual pathway to citizenship [for qualified nonresidents],” the governor said.
He said this will be good for the local economy “because what it does is it allows…businesses to continue to operate here and addresses the issue of potential labor shortages.” Granting qualified nonresidents improved immigration status, he added, will give the commonwealth breathing time to train and educate more local workers and businesses can have the transition period they need, especially in the area of tourism.This is certainly a refreshing change from the vocal views of disgraced, former governor, Benigno Fitial, who was belligerently against granting U.S. status to the legal nonresidents.
Alex Sablan, President of the 160-member Saipan Chamber of Commerce, also supports the bill. He was quoted by The Saipan Tribune as saying that he “is pleased to see CNMI immigration matters affecting our businesses and jobs, our economy and our community included in the federal immigration reform bill now offered by the bipartisan committee in the U.S. Senate.”
Others share my concern with the 5-year wait period for permanent residency status, including some worker leaders and members of the CNMI House. Former CNMI immigration director, Saipan Representative Tony Sablan (IR) is supportive of granting the legal nonresidents green cards. He was quoted by The Saipan Tribune:
“Personally, I object to adding five years waiting period. That is a double standard applied to foreign workers in the CNMI. For me, whatever is required of foreign workers in California or New York to become green card holders should be the one applied in the CNMI too.”Longterm nonresident Carlito Marquez was also quoted as questioning the 5-year wait time:
“The five years of waiting upon its effective dates is quite hard for those foreign workers without employers who are now struggling to survive and just holding on for any improved status that they are expecting to happen soon. But we can't do nothing if 'that's the law' otherwise, we challenge it [again] in the court of law,” he said.Most of us agree that ideally there should be no five-year waiting period for legal nonresidents to receive permanent residency. We all know that have waited more than enough. Granting the estimated 12,000 or less legal, longterm nonresidents green cards would not only make them whole after years and even decades of uncertainty, suffering and in many cases abuse, but would eliminate the need for an extension of the expensive and problematic federal CNMI-only Transitional Guest Worker Program.
Because legal, longterm nonresidents must maintain permanent residency in the CNMI during the five year period to qualify for a green card, nonresident workers who lose their jobs or have their hours cut will face extreme hardship as they attempt to hang on to qualify. Under the bill, the CNMI legal nonresidents will not be afforded the flexibility that the 11 million undocumented aliens will be given as far as freedom to move in the states to find work, so they will be at a distinct disadvantage in their journey to gain U.S. status. The pathway to U.S. citizenship for the CNMI legal residents is also more arduous because unlike in the U.S. mainland, there are few charities in the CNMI to support immigrant individuals and their families in need.
Of course, the provision can be changed, but to push it poses a risk of having it cut out of the bill completely. I am under the impression from sources in Washington that this is the best that could be negotiated and it is best to keep the provision "under the radar" so political extremists do not remove the provision in its entirety from the bill.