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Pinoys in CNMI seek more lenient immigration policy

October 15, 2008 1:27pm
CAPITAL HILL, Saipan – Long-staying Filipinos and other Asian workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are petitioning the CNMI government to issue an executive order granting an “immediate relative (IR)" status to parents of US citizens younger than 21 years old.

Only US citizens who are at least 21 years old are currently allowed to petition their parents to have an “IR" category under CNMI and US immigration statutes.

An IR immigration category allows the parents of US citizens to reside permanently in the CNMI or any other US state or territory with or without jobs.

The petition, addressed to CNMI Governor Benigno R. Fitial started circulating in the CNMI capital of Saipan on Sunday.

“We will have as many signatories as we can to make a dent," Coalition for Recognition, Equality and Advancement of American Ethnic Minorities (Cream) adviser Daniel Buniag told GMANews.TV Tuesday night.

Cream is spearheading the petition.

Its members are mostly US citizens who are registered voters in the CNMI, Asian parents of US citizen children, or Asians who are married to US citizens.

The petitioners are asking the CNMI governor to issue an executive order conveying an “IR" status to parents of US citizen children aged 18 "on or before Nov. 1, 2009."

“US citizen kids can petition them (parents) for permanent residency when they are 21 years old. The petition is only to help them for now (while they are only 18 years old)," Buniag, of Angeles, Pampanga, added.

The petitioners want their request “be given a priority and an immediate resolution."

Thousands of US citizen children in the CNMI have one or two foreigner parents, many of them Filipinos.

Children born in the CNMI – a United States territory in the Western Pacific – automatically become US citizens, regardless of the ethnicity or nationality of their parents.

The CNMI is home to some 10,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Americans.

Many of the foreigner-parents of US children are now jobless or soon to become jobless in the CNMI because the local economy has been badly hit by the pullout of the once almighty garment industry and a continuous drop in tourist arrivals.

As a result of lack of jobs and underemployment, the parents of US children – many of them minors who still cannot live by themselves – are being forced to leave the CNMI.

These parents are left with two options: leave behind their children or bring them to the Philippines or other Asian countries where many of the benefits they receive as US citizens in the CNMI like free public education are not available.

Parents of US children and long-term foreign workers in the CNMI are also now wary about the impact on their immigration status of a law placing CNMI immigration under federal control in 2009.

A draft of the implementing regulations for the federal law has yet to be finalized.

“If Immediate Relative (IR) status is accorded to the parents of these children, then the worry and fear of the CNMI government of losing skilled labor force will ease out due to the presence and sufficiency of the numbers of needed skilled workers on the islands," the petitioners say.

Irene Tantiado, a labor rights activist and president of the United Workers Movement NMI, which also consists mainly of Filipinos on Saipan, said the Cream-led petition should be supported by many.

She said the petition for IR status should include parents of US citizens regardless of age if the US citizen children have disabilities or are serving in the United States military.

“These are special cases," said Tantiado, from Cebu.

Many of the US citizen children of Asian parents are registered voters in the CNMI, which will have its gubernatorial election in November 2009.

Many of the US citizen children of nonresidents are also enlisted in the United States military to “protect and defend the Constitutions of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands," the petitioners say.

The CNMI Division of Immigration, according to the petitioners, “does not recognize the presence and importance of these ethnic US citizen children to petition and support their parents as immediate relatives due to their age and status."

“The ethnic US citizen children have rights and privileges to petition and be with the parents at all times to guide and educate them as responsible and loving parents," the petitioners say.

“… If an Immediate Relative (IR) status shall be conveyed and accorded to the parents of the US citizen children stability, economic security and peace of mind within the family will be achieved and preserved," the petitioners add.

Section 706(D): Immediate Relative of US Citizen or Permanent Resident Entry Permit of the CNMI Immigration Rules and Regulations does not state nor specify that US citizen children cannot petition their parents as their immediate relative.

This is not the first time that a petition asking either the CNMI or the US government for a change in status of foreigners in the CNMI has circulated.

Earlier, foreign workers circulated petitions addressed to the United States government asking for a grant of permanent residency or green card status to foreign workers who have been lawfully working in the CNMI for at least five years.

The US government has yet to issue a formal statement about the earlier petitions.


In related news, the Coalition for Recognition, Equality and Advancement of American Ethnic Minorities (Cream) is set to endorse the candidacy of Gregorio “Kilili" Sablan as the CNMI’s first nonvoting delegate to the US House of Representatives in the Nov. 4 national presidential elections.

Sablan was the only one who showed up at a forum sponsored by Cream on Sunday night out of four delegate candidates who were invited.

Besides his presence at the forum, Sablan’s stand on the most important issues affecting foreign workers in the CNMI has won the confidence of Cream.

Sablan’s platform is focused on improving the CNMI economy to ensure continuous need for foreign laborers, but said that nonresident workers who are no longer employed should depart the CNMI.

He said while there is no assurance that foreign workers will be granted a more permanent immigration status once the federal government takes over CNMI immigration, he will make sure that key officials in Washington, D.C. will be more aware of the circumstances of foreign workers in the CNMI.

Sablan is a former executive director of the CNMI Election Commission and a former member of the CNMI House of Representatives.

He is married to Andrea, who is from Tarlac province in the northern Philippines.

Sablan is also the only one of nine delegate candidates who has a platform for people with disabilities, many of them born to parents who are nonresident workers in the CNMI. - GMANews.TV
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