Tighter FAS migration gets boost in House • Committee report assures policy will provide safeguards against discrimination

Posted on Oct 12 1999

Two House committees have endorsed a legislative proposal seeking to restrict the stay of Freely Associated States citizens in the CNMI, saying the measure is “reasonable, timely and fair” despite protests from Micronesian governments.

The joint panel of Federal and Foreign Relations as well as Labor and Immigration called on lawmakers to pass the bill offered by Rep. Melvin O. Faisao to protect local citizens and scarce resources against the adverse impact of so-called FAS habitual residency.

“Without federal assistance, the Commonwealth finds it increasingly difficult to host FAS citizens, especially in light of our dwindling economy,” said the two committees in a report on House Bill-294.

Introduced in September 1998, the measure is the first attempt by the government to address mounting problems spawned by the unrestricted entry of peoples from neighboring islands as part of their privilege under the Compact of Free Association forged with the United States.

While the CNMI encourages positive community participation by FAS citizens on the island, the government has no policy on their habitual residency to deter and discourage the abuse of such status, such as those engaging in criminal activities or becoming a public charge.

According to the House report, HB 11-294 does not forbid Micronesians to establish residency in the Commonwealth and does not discriminate them against employment or business opportunities.

“It merely imposes on FAS citizens in a nondiscriminatory manner conditions for establishing and maintaining residence,” it said, “the violation of which may result in deportation.”

Several Micronesian governments, particularly the Republic of Palau, have opposed the CNMI proposal because of the discriminatory conditions it will impose on their citizens.

They have instead urged the Commonwealth to lobby Washington to fulfill its promise in the Compact to defray the costs of providing services to their people, such as housing, health and education.

Forged in 1986, the agreement has allowed citizens from Palau, the Marshalls and the Federated States of Micronesia to enter freely into any U.S. soil with financial aid from federal authorities.

But the accord, due to expire next year, has come under close scrutiny from wealthier Pacific islands like Guam, Hawaii and the CNMI after the federal government reneged on its commitment.

Heavy burden: So far, the Commonwealth has estimated costs of more than $28 million from its own coffers over the past two years alone in accommodating nearly 5,000 FAS citizens.

Several government agencies have overwhelmingly backed the move by the Legislature, noting that a big portion of its services have been directed toward FAS nationals who, although nonimmigrants, are also qualified to receive benefits granted only to indigenous people and U.S. citizens on the island.

Since it also controls local immigration, the CNMI is in a position to determine immigration policy that best suits and improves other vital social and economic policies, according to the report.

“The imposition of limitations and conditions on FAS habitual residents should not be viewed narrowly, but rather in conjunction with other immigration policies which overall aim to improve the quality of life for all CNMI residents through economic independence,” it added.

The joint committees, however, agreed to amend the initial proposal to strengthen its intent and clarify key provisions, such as conditions for entry, administrative hearings and deportation or removal procedures.

Under the proposed law, the island government will screen these people to determine their eligibility under a list of requirements, including criminal records and health standards.

It will also restrict free entry to FAS citizens who are not full-time students, lawful dependents of a gainfully employed relative or active members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

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