HR 559 goes to Trump

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Posted on Jun 24 2019

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The fate of a thousand individuals in the CNMI now rests in the hands of President Donald J. Trump.

A total of 1,038 categorical parolees and employment authorization document holders are anxiously waiting for Trump’s signature on a bill that would give them legal CNMI-only permanent resident status.

The bill, H.R. 559, is now at the White House and must be signed by Trump on or before June 29, 2019.

If not, these individuals, along with their families, will have to leave the CNMI after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services terminated the categorical parole program last December. They were given a 180-day window to transition to other legal status but it is not yet known how many availed of other U.S. work visas.

H.R. 559, introduced by Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and also called the Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act, is specifically for those who are under the categorical parole program who have continuously and legally resided in the CNMI since Nov. 28, 2009.

It should not be confused with H.R. 560, also introduced by Sablan, which is separate and hopes to give CNMI-only resident status to workers under the CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Visa program.

CNMI Washington Office director Jason Osborne told Saipan Tribune that H.R. 559 passed the Senate last Friday (Thursday in Washington, D.C.) by unanimous consent in a process they call the wrap. Any senator can ask for a wrap—the unanimous consent on the floor that sets aside the rules of procedure and expedite proceedings. If no senator objects, the request pushes forward.

Jerry Tubale, who is an EAD holder, said the news gave individuals like him some hope even with five days left before the expiration of the program. “I know some people who will be leaving the CNMI this Sunday. We hope President Trump signs it, so they won’t have to leave and be separated from their kids,” he said in Tagalog.

The 34-year-old Tubale, who works as a sales representative at Westco, added the company that employs him has already applied for a CW-1 permit for him so he could continue working legally in the Commonwealth. He has been working in the CNMI for 13 years and has six U.S. citizen children.

John, a former employee of the now-defunct Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino, who asked to be named only by an alias, also welcomed the news.

“It is still welcome news. A slight good news. At least we can now breathe a little easier. We’re just hoping President Trump signs it, since it is also for our kids and family. So, we can still continue working,” he said.

Stop false information

Itos Feliciano, one of the individuals who helped organize the foreign workers under the program, is asking other people to stop spreading incorrect information based on their interpretation of H.R. 559. The foreign workers under the parole program are from mostly from Bangladesh, China, and the Philippines.

“Please avoid giving false information…if they don’t fully understand the provisions in the bill. They are just creating false hopes [in] other people who are not eligible under H.R. 559. …We’re hoping and praying that President Trump signs the bill this week.”

H.R. 559 and H.R. 560 have almost the same language since both of Sablan’s bills aim to give CNMI-only permanent residency status to long-term foreign workers who have legally resided in the Commonwealth. However, H.R. 559 would address the current situation of parolees as they would lose their legal status by June 29.
 
Kilili thanks Murkowski

Sablan credits Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) for the quick passage of H.R. 559 in the Senate.

“She understands why the Marianas needs special consideration, when it comes to immigration issues, and she has been willing to use her political skills to help us,” he said.

Sablan introduced H.R. 559 last Jan. 15, shortly after the Trump administration announced it was ending humanitarian parole for five groups of people in the Marianas. The Obama administration set up parole programs in 2009 and 2011. They covered persons who had been born in the Marianas, but were not covered by citizenship provisions of the Marianas Covenant of Political Union with the United States. Persons granted permanent resident status under Commonwealth law in the early 1980s were also covered by the Obama policy, as were certain in-home caregivers and immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

“The Trump administration did not agree with use of executive authority to allow these long-term, legal residents to stay in the Marianas,” Sablan said. “However, the Trump administration did agree that these 1,039 individuals should stay, if Congress provided a basis in law. The Trump administration drafted what became H.R. 559 and supported passage, when I held a hearing on the issue in February.”

Sablan said, because of the Trump administration’s support, he is hopeful that the President will sign H.R. 559 before the June 29 deadline.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres testified at Sablan’s February hearing and agreed to permanent status in the Marianas for the parolees.

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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