House agrees to limit birth tourism with exemptions

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Posted on Jul 15 2019

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The House of Representatives ultimately passed a joint resolution last Friday afternoon that basically says the CNMI Legislature is open to limiting birthright citizenships in the Commonwealth.

House Joint Resolution 21-4 House Draft 2, as passed by the House, seeks to limit birthright citizenship to children whose mother is either legally employed in the CNMI or a citizen of a nation under the Compact of Free Association.

A joint resolution means it has to be adopted by both the CNMI House of Representatives and CNMI Senate. It, however, is not a law and merely conveys the sentiment of the CNMI Legislature.

The resolution now heads to the Senate for concurrence.

In a question addressed to the House legal counsel, Rep. Joseph “Lee Pan” Guerrero (R-Saipan) asked if HJR 21-4 also includes pre-employment contract pregnancies. But both House legal counsels John Cool and Joe Taisacan opined that joint resolution only applies once the baby is born.

Ultimately, HJR 21-4 passed on a vote of 15-1, with four members absent. Rep. Sheila Babauta (Ind-Saipan) opposed it. In a later statement, she noted that the lack of proper documentation for the joint resolution was why she did not support it.

“The resolution is a statement of intent to create policy in this direction and that is a bold statement to make. I was not comfortable supporting a statement of this magnitude without proper research and documentation,” she said.

It was discovered during the discussion of HJR 21-4 that the resolution was actually a result of 902 talks earlier this year.

“I wanted this resolution sent back to committee to further study the impact of birth tourism, the topic of U.S. citizenship, our unique relationship with the federal government, and the authorities granted to us by the Covenant,” she said. “Do we have the authority to grant or deny U.S. citizenship? Is this the smartest way to address the issue? What other options do we have? How will this impact our relationship with the U.S.?”

In an interview with Saipan Tribune, House Speaker Blas Jonathan “BJ” Attao (R-Saipan), the main sponsor of the bill, noted that birth tourism wasn’t an issue.

“…Back when we controlled our immigration, we were responsible for all this stuff. …We actually had a holding cell,” he said. “We never really had a problem with overstaying or stuff like that. This is one of the things, since the takeover of our immigration…[that] has been [spiking] over the years.”

He pointed out that the standard practice at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, based on his conversations with them over the years, is to look at bank accounts.

“Can they afford to live here? Can they pay for their births here in the CNMI? If they can, they let them [enter],” he added.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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