Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (D-MP) said yesterday that there have already been “discussions” in the U.S. Senate on giving permanent immigration status to foreign workers in the CNMI with U.S. citizen children, CNMI permanent residents, and immediate relatives of U.S. and Freely Associated States citizens.
He also expressed disappointment over decisions made by the Fitial administration related to the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, including using a $220,000 federal grant for a visitors center on Navy Hill away from the ocean, and without conducting a public hearing or meeting with stakeholders.
Sablan was the guest speaker in yesterday's Rotary Club of Saipan meeting where he talked about efforts to further improve CNMI education.
During the question-and-answer session, Sablan was asked about updates on federalization and the marine monument visitors center.
When asked for clarification later, Sablan said “there are discussions going that way,” referring to a proposal to grant “long-term permanent residency” status to certain groups of individuals, including foreign workers with U.S. citizen children in the CNMI, those with U.S. and FAS citizen spouses and immediate relatives, and CNMI permanent residents.
“I think it's going to move in the U.S. Senate. .They came to me for information. I'm working with them. It took us six months, it took a lot of work,” Sablan said.
Rabby Syed, president of the United Workers Movement-NMI, said yesterday that this is “good news” to all those who will be impacted.
“We have asked for this, a long time ago. We asked Mr. Kilili, the Homeland Security secretary about it. We also asked Mr. Kilili to add those foreign workers who have been in the CNMI for a long time, those who have been here for at least five years. These people deserve improved immigration status, or a pathway to U.S. citizenship,” Syed told Saipan Tribune.
Syed said the workers group is also looking forward to the U.S. Department of the Interior's recommendation to the U.S. Congress on the status of foreign workers in the CNMI.
Sablan said there's got to be a way to provide long-term immigration status for certain groups in the CNMI.
“Right now you can't give green cards to anybody. Immigration is a hot issue; it's probably a hotter issue than health care. And so you've got to find a way where you could provide a long-term status for people here. They would not be green card holders, they will be LPR, that's what I understand,” he said.
U.S. Public Law 110-229, the federalization law, requires the Interior secretary, in consultation with the Homeland Security secretary and the CNMI governor, to recommend to the U.S. Congress-as the Interior secretary deems appropriate-a permanent immigration status for guest workers legally residing in the CNMI, by May 10, 2010.
Sablan said the U.S. Government Accountability Office will also be releasing a report soon on the federalization of the CNMI, and how local agencies deal with federal agencies such as Homeland Security and its component agencies.
He said the courts may also end up resolving issues on federalization and authority over nonresident workers but, in his opinion, the local government may lose out on this issue.
Sablan urged the CNMI government to work cooperatively with the federal government.
Sablan's bill to put up the visitors center in the CNMI instead of Guam is still with the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife chaired by Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, who wants the center to be built in Guam.
“I think it's unfair,” Sablan told Rotary Club members and guests, referring to a proposal to put the visitors center in Guam rather than CNMI, whose three northernmost islands are part of the monument.
He said CNMI Land and Natural Resources Secretary Dr. Ignacio Dela Cruz shot down his proposal to use a $50,000 grant from NOAA to promote the 50th anniversary of the exploration of the Mariana Trench, which would have given the CNMI the needed exposure. Sablan said he worked to secure the NOAA grant.
Dela Cruz did not return call for comment as of press time.
“This is something we need, to start highlighting the uniqueness of our islands and our ocean and also it's a great way to promote the marine monument. He doesn't think it's a good enough idea,” he said.
Sablan said another $220,000 in federal grant could be used for scoping the monument visitors center by conducting public hearing as to where the public wants to see the visitors center. The Rota Legislative Delegation, for example, wants the visitors center on Rota.
“But instead, they're going to put it up on Navy Hill. I don't see any ocean out there,” he said, adding that he's hoping a visitors center should be placed near the ocean.
He said no public hearing has been made on the matter.
“I was hoping that they do public hearings and talk to people, get different opinions. Some people have great ideas on how to approach this. But one person made up his mind. It's going to be on Navy Hill. No public input. That's his decision,” he said, referring to Dela Cruz.
He added, “I just make the money available, how they use it, and whether they use it badly, which I think in this case they're using it very badly, that's how it is.”