Starting today, over a thousand foreign workers in the CNMI will have only 33 days to remain in the CNMI legally and—unless a congressional miracle happens in that blink of an eye—these workers will have to exit the CNMI.
That is, unless Gov. Ralph DLG Torres manages to convince U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to reverse its decision to terminate the categorical parole program.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said as much over the weekend. “Gov. Torres said he would talk to President Trump people about reversing their decision to get rid of the parolees. That was at the hearing in February and the governor has been in 902 talks since then.”
Sablan pointed out that, while the 902 talks include talks about immigration policy, “very few really knows what is being negotiated in 902. But everyone knows the governor will not forget the parolees that Trump wants to kick out.”
Sablan did concede the difficulty of getting traction for immigration reform in the U.S. Congress, adding that this was one of the reasons behind the 35-day government shutdown earlier in the year.
“Immigration bills are tough to pass in Congress these days. The recent historically longest federal government shutdown ever was caused by differences over immigration policies,” said Sablan in an email to Saipan Tribune. “Our own [Northern Mariana Islands U.S.] Workforce Act [of 2018] took over a year to negotiate, pass, and get signed into law.”
Sablan’s H.R. 559, which was intended to help the status of workers under the categorical parole program and those with employment authorization document, remains in a holding pattern in the U.S. House of Representatives, even as the clock winds down for those affected.
That includes immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and other stateless individuals, CNMI permanent residents and their IRs, IRs of citizens of Freely Associated States (the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau), and caregivers of CNMI residents.
Their status remains in limbo as the 180-day transition window given by USCIS to those affected is set to end in late June.
USCIS made the decision to terminate the categorical parole program early this year. Many of the affected workers were granted status under the administration of former President Barack Obama in 2011.
Without an overriding law by Congress, over 1,000 qualified workers would have to leave the CNMI on or before June 29 this year.
Sablan added that immigration also had an impact in other legislation like the supplemental disaster recovery bill that was held up for months over policy differences on immigration issues.
The Senate passed H.R. 2157 or the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, a bill that would give more funds for the CNMI and other U.S. states that are recovering from various natural disasters last year.