HR 559 gives a glimmer of hope

Posted on Jun 25 2019


Many in the community, including Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, are optimistic that H.R. 559 would be signed into law by President Donald J. Trump just in time before the June 29 expiration of the categorical parole program.

Torres told Saipan Tribune that, with the help of CNMI Washington Office director Jason Osborne, they have been working with their counterparts in the White House and Washington, D.C.

In an interview yesterday, Torres said his administration is optimistic that H.R. 559 will soon be signed into law and thanked everyone who helped move the bill forward, saying it is a collaborative effort, that everyone contributed.

“This is a very critical bill for our economy here in the CNMI and the livelihood of our people. I hope that this would assist us in our recovery and continue for us moving forward,” he said.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services terminated the categorical parole program last December, but gave the 1,038 affected individuals a 180-day window to transition to other legal U.S. work visas before June 29. If H.R. 559 is not signed, the parolees and employment authorization document holders will need to leave the CNMI or become illegal since they no longer have any legal status to stay in the Commonwealth.

Delegate Gregorio Kilil C. Sablan (Ind-MP) introduced the legislation that would grant CNMI-only resident status to those under the categorical parole and EAD holders. Torres testified in Sablan’s committee hearing in February and agreed to granting permanent residency status to the parolees.

Torres, in a separate statement, also thanked Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) for her leadership and help in pushing for the passage of H.R. 559 in the U.S. Senate. “After she received my letter emphasizing the urgency of this bill for our economy and many families, I’m grateful that she advocated for the CNMI through her influence in the Senate. Our strong partnership over the years and her understanding of important issues facing the CNMI have led to meaningful federal legislative victories to help our community.”

He added that his administration has been in constant communication with White House officials and U.S. Department of Homeland Security on this issue. “This path was recommended by [USCIS] to provide greater legal status for these individuals to remain in the CNMI. My office and I will continue to engage with the White House to reiterate the urgent need for this bill’s enactment so that we keep families together and continue growing our economy.”

Northern Marianas Business Alliance Corp. president Alex Sablan, who is also a board member of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, told Saipan Tribune that they are also thankful to the combined efforts of Torres, Delegate Sablan, and the staff of their respective offices in Washington, D.C. “Their collaboration in the passage of this legislation is crucial.”

“Once President Trump signs H.R. 559 into law, over a thousand individuals and their families that have been living, working, providing for their family, and the community of the CNMI will now have CNMI status and will not fear having to leave at their deadline, which was slated for the end of this month. Kudos to all that were involved.”

The Northern Marianas Descent Corp. has also expressed its support for H.R. 559.

“To be clear, this policy is a federally imposed immigration mandate, not the CNMI government. However, it is the sincere hope of the Northern Marianas Descent Corp. that the U.S. Senate will timely act to address a potentially serious and irreparable impact on our extremely fragile economy.”

NMDC added there would be humanitarian consequences if these individuals lose their status and are forced to leave the CNMI.

“…One cannot imagine the emotional turmoil a family separation will cause on innocent children. We support this compelling social issue for these morally humanitarian reasons. Gi tinayuyut yan amistå.”

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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