Miracle needed on HR 559

Posted on Jun 05 2019


Between now and June 29—just scant days away—about 1,038 people are fervently hoping for what would amount to a miracle that would allow them to stay legally in the Commonwealth. Among them is John (not his real name), a former Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino employee who is working in the CNMI under the categorical parole program.

A bill that intends to make that miracle happen, H.R. 559, passed the U.S House of Representatives yesterday but it still has to hurdle the U.S. Senate and be signed into law before the June 29 deadline in order to make a difference in the lives of these 1,038 people.

John has worked for almost 12 years at the Tinian Dynasty as one of its supervisors before it closed down a few years ago. He and several other workers from Bangladesh, China, and the Philippines are hoping to remain legally in the CNMI for the sake of their children who were born here.

“We were depressed when we heard that [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] terminated the [categorical parole] program. My kids were born here, so what would happen to them if I’m going to stop working or be forced to leave because I lost my legal status? I hope the CNMI and U.S. government can help us,” said John, who now works in construction in order to provide for his family.

“Sometimes, I want to give up but I keep thinking of my kids. After Dynasty closed down, I would have left the CNMI if I didn’t have my family here. But my kids’ lives are here. We just want to stay legally in the CNMI in order to continue working. …as long as we have legal status to work, so [we] could provide for our families.”

John, who holds an employment authorization document, is worried that he and his family might be forced to leave the CNMI penniless if ever the issue is unresolved.

“We don’t have any savings. Dynasty still owes us money; we’re still waiting to get paid. What would happen if we were forced to leave? Where am I going to get the money for our plane tickets? Hopefully, a miracle would happen so we can legally stay and work here,” he added.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP)’s H.R. 559 seeks to resolve the immigration situation of certain aliens who have lived in the CNMI legally since Nov. 28, 2009. It now heads to the U.S. Senate for further action, but time is against it, with June 29, 2019, being the deadline for categorical parolees and EAD holders to legally stay in the CNMI.

USCIS terminated the categorical parole program and EAD in late December last year, giving individuals under these programs a transition window of 180 days to get another immigration status in order to remain and work in the CNMI legally.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres thanked the U.S. House of Representatives for passing H.R. 559 and stressed that his administration is working tirelessly with Sablan on this issue.

“We have been working on this issue for a while by establishing a dialog with the Department of Homeland Security and the White House in order to protect our humanitarian parolees,” Torres said. “We’re very grateful that the Trump administration supports the bill. Now that it has passed the House, we hope that the Senate passes it as well in order to protect and support our humanitarian parolees.”

Sablan said that H.R. 559, or the Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act, passed the House through a bipartisan voice vote, but now faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

“With a strong bipartisan vote in the House and with the Trump administration backing the bill, we are in a strong position in the Senate, but time is against us. We have less than four weeks to win passage in the Senate and get the bill signed by the President,” he said.

The termination of the categorical parole program and EAD will affect the lives of immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and other stateless individuals, CNMI permanent residents and their IRs, IRs of citizens of Freely Associated States (the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau), and caregivers of CNMI residents.

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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