Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) hopes the 116th Congress could reach a compromise on a bipartisan legislation that would fix the immigration system, saying it is adversely affecting the CNMI.
In a speech delivered on the U.S. House of Representatives floor last week, Sablan said a comprehensive immigration reform is needed since the broken system is hurting the CNMI and its people.
“In 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with Republicans and Democrats voting together. That would have gone a long way to fixing immigration.
“The bill gave the people who came here [U.S. mainland] illegally but are now contributing to the economic prosperity of all Americans a way to come out of the shadows, and it provided for substantial improvements in border security—just what President [Donald Trump] says he wants.”
Sablan was referring to S. 744 or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 that was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and co-sponsored by the other seven members of the bipartisan group of U.S. senators dubbed the “Gang of Eight” that wrote and negotiated the bill.
The Senate Judiciary Committee recommended S. 744 to be placed on the calendar. The Senate passed S. 744 on a 68-32 vote, but it was not considered by the Republican-controlled House and the legislation died in the 113th Congress.
Sablan said he is hoping the 116th Congress, with the Democrats in the majority in the House, could pick up where the “Gang of Eight” left off. “I hope that we can dust off that comprehensive immigration reform bill and breathe new life into it. Because our immigration problems still need fixing, we have a solution, ready-made, that already passed the Senate with Republican and Democratic votes.
“I worked with the ‘Gang of Eight’ in the Senate who drafted that legislation. I was able to include a section that dealt with groups of people in the Mariana Islands who fell through the cracks when Congress extended U.S. immigration law [Consolidated Natural Resources Act] to my islands in 2008.”
Long-time guest workers
He added that those who were affected by the CNRA did not stay or came to the CNMI illegally. “They were all lawfully present, but their situations were not understood or accounted for when federal law was applied to the [CNMI]. I have wanted to help them since my first days in Congress 10 years ago, and I will not stop working until they are pulled out of the limbo we left them in.”
Sablan said the people he wanted to help came to the CNMI even before the Covenant was enacted that put the Commonwealth in political union with the United States. “The Mariana Islands is your only home. You grew up in the islands, went to school, have worked there ever since, raising your own family, always lawfully present.”
“Then, three decades later, Congress decides to extend America’s immigration borders. Suddenly, you are told you are a foreigner. You need a work visa or humanitarian parole or, otherwise, you will have to leave the only home you have ever known. Imagine. The Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill would have fixed that.”
He said that the local government then passed a law giving permanent resident status to these long-time guest workers, but they were stripped of their status after Congress extended immigration to the CNMI. Those workers, if they wanted to remain in the CNMI back then, must get a work visa or a humanitarian parole or leave the islands and their families.
“Imagine coming to the [CNMI] as a foreign worker. You have contributed to economic growth and have been a lawfully present for decades. But Congress passes a new law, and suddenly, your status changes. Even if you have a spouse or children who are U.S. citizens, they cannot petition for you because they are too poor or underage,” said Sablan.
“Under the Obama administration, at least you were granted humanitarian parole. But the Trump administration wants you gone by June 30 of this year. You must uproot your family, pull your children out of school, or leave them behind as orphans. Imagine. The Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill would have fixed that, too.”
Sablan said that the CNMI is a small community of about 50,000 people, unlike other districts represented by his colleagues in the U.S. House. “When I ask you to imagine the plight of those who were forgotten when Congress extended federal immigration law to the [CNMI], I do not have to imagine who they are. I know them individually. They are my neighbors. Some are my relatives. None are strangers to me.”
“They are good people who came in legally and remained lawfully present. But their lives are precarious, and the Trump administration is tightening the noose. We do not have to imagine how to help them. The solution is before us. The Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, a bipartisan vote, a set of policies to fix our broken system and strengthen border security, I dare say, could pass this House today. Let us act.”
Immigration modernization act of 2013
Some key highlights of S. 744, if it became a law, would have given undocumented immigrants legal status and a path to citizenship and would have added 40,000 border patrol agents. It would have also imposed a points-based immigration system.
A new visa for entrepreneurs and W visa for lower skilled workers were among the new visas that were proposed in S. 744, while also proposing new restrictions under the H1B visa program to prevent abuse and additional visas/green cards for students that have science, technology, engineering, and mathematics degrees from U.S. educational institutions.
S. 744 has also proposed a $1.5-billion youth jobs program and rescinded the Diversity Visa Lottery. The Congressional Budget Office said the reform bill would have cut the U.S. fiscal deficit by $197 billion in a 10-year period and another $700 billion by 2033.
The CBO report also said U.S. wages would have been 0.1 percent lower by 2023 and 0.5 percent higher after 10 years if the bill was passed by the Senate back then. It would have also added $276 billion in revenues to the Social Security Administration.