Torres: Improved status bill has a better chance this time

Posted on Feb 06 2019

The effort to grant improved status to qualified guest workers in the CNMI may finally have a strong chance to hurdle the 116th U.S. Congress since the House of Representatives is currently controlled by Democrats—or so Gov. Ralph DLG Torres believes.

Granting improved status to long-term guest workers in the CNMI is part of a legislative fix that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director L. Francis Cissna had suggested in order to resolve the issue on the termination of the CNMI parole program.

Last Dec. 27, USCIS terminated the CNMI parole program, affecting close to 2,000 workers that use the program to work and stay in the Commonwealth. That means 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.

That prompted Torres to write Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) to inform him that he supports any legislation that would fix the problem. “As you are aware, on Dec. 27, 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced their decision to terminate the humanitarian parole program in the CNMI, impacting hundreds of individuals who have lived and called the CNMI home for years.”

“In a recent [phone] call with USCIS director Cissna, he informed me of the administration’s interest in securing a legislative remedy that will allow these impacted individuals to remain in the CNMI.”

He added that his administration is throwing its full support behind the issue, since it is a matter that needs congressional action. “I write to you in support of this effort to request your assistance in working collaboratively with the CNMI government and the Trump administration to navigate this issue through the U.S. Congress.”

Torres said that granting improved status to long-term guest workers is an issue that he has already discussed with Sablan. “For years, we have discussed the issue of improved status and, on multiple occasions, I have offered my support and assistance in making this long-held goal a reality.”

“Improved status for those previously qualifying for humanitarian parole is just one step. I support efforts to provide improved status for these individuals and for many qualified individuals who have lived and worked in the CNMI prior to the initiation of the enactment of U.S. Public Law 110-229 [the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008].”

Torres believes that the legislative fix USCIS is suggesting has a strong chance of making it through the 116th Congress. “As we enter into the 116th Congress, the CNMI’s representation within the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives grants us the opportune time to make progress toward the completion of this goal. Your role in seeing this goal to a successful outcome is crucial and I offer my support to your efforts in Congress.”

Sablan has already introduced two pieces of legislation—H.R. 559 and 560—more than two weeks after the opening of the 116th Congress. Both bills hope to give permanent status to qualified individuals in the CNMI.

The two bills hope to address the status of workers under the humanitarian parole program and employment authorization document, as well as long-term workers and foreign investors. The legislation also aims to save the status of close to 2,000 workers affected by USCIS’ decision.

Granting long-term guest workers improved status has been a contentious and lengthy labor and immigration issue in the CNMI, a move that had been attempted several times but have proven futile.

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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