Island residents may be miles away from Washington, D.C. for the presidential inauguration but they are nevertheless hopeful that President Barack Obama's second term in office will have positive impacts on Commonwealth immigration and economy.
“I am still optimistic that immigration reform will happen. That's what has been expected by Hispanics that helped Obama win a second term,” said Carlito Marquez, a long-term foreign worker and leader.
If the U.S. Labor secretary does not extend the immigration federalization transition, the number of transitional foreign workers would have to be zeroed after Dec. 31, 2014.
Many foreign workers in the CNMI said a more proper way of addressing this is to grant improved immigration status such as permanent residency or “green card” to long-term, legal guest workers.
Bonifacio Sagana, president of Dekada Movement, said he believes that Obama's promise of immigration reform will happen during his second term in office.
He said this will also grant the wish of long-term guest workers in the CNMI “to have improved status.”
The Fitial administration, for its part, is “curious to see how President Obama's new policies, if any, could impact the Commonwealth,” said press secretary Angel Demapan.
Demapan said the president is taking on a new term, reorganizing several of his Cabinet with more expected in the coming weeks.
“So definitely, the [Fitial] administration is interested to see whether or not his new policies under a new leadership team will have significant impacts on the CNMI and the territories. Nonetheless, the administration is ready to respond to any inquiries from the Obama administration and more importantly, the governor and lieutenant governor are ready to work with them to ensure that the interests of the Commonwealth are taken into consideration. That's simply what it is, safeguarding the interests of our remote island communities to ensure that decisions made thousands of miles away are prudent and conducive to our island economy and way of life,” he told Saipan Tribune.
Rene Reyes, president of Marianas Advocates for Humanitarian Affairs Ltd. or Mahal, separately shared his “optimism that Obama is very serious in pushing this,” referring to immigration reform.
“We want him to make this a priority, not next month, not next year, but now, before thousands of guest workers will be forced to leave the CNMI after December 2014. We want to let him know that CNMI guest workers legally entered and continue to work legally here, we pay taxes, and many have U.S. citizen children who are contributing their talent and are serving in the U.S. military,” Reyes said.
Obama took his oath of office on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Washington, D.C. (early Tuesday morning, CNMI time). CNN reports said the flag-waving crowd that watched the event was noticeably smaller than the throng that turned out for Obama's first oath in 2009, but still packed the National Mall for blocks.
Because of time difference and distance, most CNMI residents get to see the replays of the inaugural celebrations only on television.
The celebrations came a day after Obama was sworn in on the constitutionally required date in a low-key ceremony at the White House.
In his speech, Obama said, “We are made for this moment, and we will seize it-so long as we seize it together.”