Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said yesterday there's been an increase in the number of those considered illegal aliens mainly because of Asian pregnant women who entered the CNMI to give birth to U.S. citizens and have remained here long after their tourist visas have expired.
CNMI immigration is now under federal control as a result of a 2008 law that also allowed the islands to vote for the first time a nonvoting delegate to the U.S. Congress.
The governor has been asking the federal government to give back local control of borders.
Fitial said his office will release data on the estimated number of illegal aliens here.
Back in March, he said the number is around “9,000,” a figure that other officials, including Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP), said was “overly inflated.”
“It's really big now. You know last year, you won't believe how many aliens came in. I'll give you the statistics (later). Most of them came in pregnant,” Fitial told Saipan Tribune in an interview at the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures' 31st General Assembly on Capital Hill yesterday.
The governor recognized that these individuals came here on tourist visas.
“But how can you stay for more than a year? They're still around, collecting food stamps,” Fitial added. The food stamps are meant for U.S. citizen children.
Under the CNMI-Guam visa waiver program, tourists from China and Russia can stay in the Marianas for a maximum of 45 days.
Babies born in the CNMI, as in other U.S. states and territories, are automatically U.S. citizens regardless of the nationality of their parents.
Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan), a former CNMI immigration director, separately said yesterday similar cases of birth tourism that became cases of overstaying “was minimal back then” when the CNMI was still in control of its own immigration.
“If we knew of reported incidents, we would remove them from the CNMI. They were overstaying mainly because they were still waiting for their child's birth certificate,” he said.
Under CNMI immigration control, tourists from mostly Asian countries were required to apply for and be granted authorization to board. They could stay in the CNMI for 30 days, with an option to extend that for another 60 days.
“At the time, we relied on tourists' responses as to the purpose of their visit which was to visit the island. There were some incidents when they came here pregnant so they can give birth here,” he said.
There have also been websites that market Saipan or the CNMI as an ideal place to give birth to U.S. citizens. These websites mostly cater to mothers or families in China and Korea.
When the CNMI economy tanked, scores of long-term foreign workers lost their jobs and many of them have applied for and been granted parole by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for them to be able to remain in the CNMI legally as they continue to look for jobs, among other things. Some of them are covered in Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan's H.R. 1466, which grants CNMI-only resident status to four groups of people including foreign parents of minor U.S. citizens.
Worker groups have also been asking the federal government to grant green card or pathway to U.S. citizenship to long-term legal workers in the CNMI, something that the Fitial administration has been opposing.