Sablan, Staffler receptive to educational financial aid for immigrants


Rep. Leila F. Staffler (D-Saipan) answers one of the questions as Rep. Christina “Tina” E. Sablan (D-Saipan) takes note during the Gubernatorial Town Hall Forum hosted by the Northern Marianas College, in collaboration with the Associated Students of NMC, at the American Memorial Park Theater Monday night. Sablan and Staffler are running for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, under the Democratic Party, in the Nov. 8 general elections. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE)

Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) and her running mate, Rep. Leila F. Staffler (D-Saipan), are both receptive to the idea of giving immigrants who don’t have U.S. citizenship or a green card the chance to receive financial aid so they can enroll at the Northern Marianas College and earn a degree.

Sablan and Staffler are running for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, under the Democratic Party, in the Nov. 8 general election. They were the first to face the three-day Gubernatorial Town Hall Forum that kicked off Monday night at the American Memorial Park Theater. NMC hosted the event in collaboration with the Associated Students of NMC.

Sablan, in her answer to the first question as to their plans for giving immigrants the chance to receive financial aid to pursue studies at NMC, said she believes they all know someone who has lost immigration status through no fault of their own.

The first question was given to Sablan and Staffler prior to the forum.

Sablan said maybe there are people who came to the CNMI as children with their parents who are contract workers and that those parents have lost immigration status and these children grew up in the community and now want opportunities to seek higher education at NMC or the Northern Marianas Technical Institute.

She said one of the first things that they should do is support the passage of H.R. 560, which would give stability and relief to so many foreign workers and their families who have been in this community for so long.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (D-MP) pending legislation, H.R. 560, seeks to grant permanent residency status in the Marianas to certain Commonwealth-Only Transitional Workers and to foreign investors admitted under Commonwealth immigration law.

Rep. Sablan said they also want to work with the local scholarship offices and private foundations, which made financial aid available, to consider expanding the definition of “resident.”

She said “resident” should include CNMI long-term residents who now have status under the previous legislation that Delegate Sablan help champion in the U.S. Congress.

Sablan said they’ve also talked about working with NMC and appealing to the leadership to extend in-state tuition for people who have established presence in this community and who have graduated from CNMI high schools.

Staffler, for her part, said they definitely looked at other places where students who are not U.S. citizens were able to avail of different types of services. Staffler said finding solutions to problems are always an issue, but it’s something that they can do.

“We definitely know that everyone’s situation is unique. But what we all have in common is that the CNMI is their home, your home, our home. And we want to help you become a contributing member to our community,” she said.

The lawmaker said that education is what can break the poverty cycle and what makes people have upward mobility so that they can provide more for their families.

“We all know somebody who has gone off to college and come home and have worked and changed the course of their whole family’s lives because of the degrees that they have been able to get,” she said.

Staffler added that when these students come back and give back to the community, that just makes the CNMI all the more richer because “we are building our local capacity.”

Sablan and Staffler answered 10 more questions and follow-up questions relating to education, economy, healthcare, social services and food security, public safety, drugs in the CNMI, environment, workforce development, infrastructure, and retirement program.

In her opening statement, Sablan said she and Staffler are running on a campaign of good governance. “We believe the potential of these islands and the potential of our people and we also know the problems. And we know that we deserve better and you deserve a government that is worthy of your trust,” Sablan said.

She said that is what good governance means to them and that is the kind of leadership that they will develop.

In her opening statement, Staffler said she is proud to be the running mate of Sablan because she believes in the latter’s vision of good governance.

“She inspired me 15 years ago and many, many others by planting a seed in our minds that we should expect more from our government,” Staffler said.

She said people should expect transparency and how the government spends public funds, fairness in the bidding process, timely payments to vendors and agencies, and equity in operation of services for all people who call this place home.

“Yet because of a blatant abuses of power and influence, more and more people see the negative outcomes manifest in our community in the form of inequity,” Staffler said.

NMC president Dr. Galvin Deleon Guerrero said he is incredibly proud of the Associated Students of NMC for spearheading this student-led forum.

Deleon Guerrero said it was originally supposed to be a debate, but they decided that they wanted to give all the candidates more time and in an environment more conducive to dive deep into their policy and platform.

“I think it’s incredibly important what the students have done here because…these are politically fraught times, nationally our political discourse has gotten incredibly divisive,” he said.

Deleon Guerrero said it’s refreshing to see that the students are leading an effort to elevate public discourse into something that is much more civil and much more about the issues.

ASNMC president Anushi Joshi said in an interview after the event that the forum had a great discussion and was very engaging.

Joshi said she believes Sablan and Staffler did a great job in answering and engaging with their audience.

“And I am hoping that our students who were watching here tonight, who were watching through the Facebook Live and YouTube Live, hopefully they learn something about their candidates and what their plans are for the future of the CNMI,” she said.

NMC volunteer Alexandra De Jesus said that both Sablan and Staffler were very articulate when they answered the questions.

The forum’s mechanics is that both candidates are given two minutes for an opening statement and three minutes for a closing statement, four minutes to answer each question, and four minutes to answer any follow-up questions.

Throughout the forum, clapping, cheering, or calling out are not allowed. After the candidates’ closing statements, the audience, however, may clap or cheer as they wish.

The questions for each issue or topic are randomly formulated and predetermined prior to the event. The candidates will receive one question per topic. The questions have been collected from the NMC student, employee and faculty population.

After the candidate answers a question, two ASNMC students on the table with the moderators will have the opportunity to ask a follow-up question to the candidate’s previous answer.

Last night, it was the turn of Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and his running mate, Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang, to answer the questions at the forum. Palacios and Apatang are running for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, under a unified independent team.

Today, Wednesday, Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres and his running mate, Sen. Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan, are set to appear before the forum. Torres is seeking re-election, while Sablan is gunning for the lieutenant governor’s position, under the Republican Party.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at
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