Saipan — Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan has asked CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres for his public and official support of Sablan’s bill giving permanent status to long-term workers and foreign investors in the Marianas. The Congressman made the request in a letter on August 1, but the Governor has not yet replied or endorsed Kilili’s bill, H.R. 6578.
“I do hope that Governor Torres will endorse my bill,” Sablan said. “We all know that we succeed when we work together—in Washington and here at home.”
Sablan introduced his new Stabilization Act just two days after the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act was signed by the President. The Stabilization Act takes advantage of the definition of “long-term worker” that Sablan included when drafting the new law.
“When we worked on permanent status bills in the past, it was often difficult to explain exactly who was included,” the Congressman said. “Now, we have a definition written into U.S. law. Having that clarity makes it much easier to get support for my legislation,” Sablan said.
Sablan introduced H.R. 6578 on July 26. The bill already has 20 co-sponsors.
Providing status for those who have lived and worked in the Marianas for many years has been a goal for Sablan since he first came to Congress. Stabilizing the workforce in this way would have economic benefits and help local businesses. Status would also give long-term workers more reason to put down roots, knowing they can make the Marianas their home.
In 2011, the congressman introduced H.R. 1466 and, after a successful hearing on the bill, it was placed on the House calendar for a vote. “We had the full support of Republican Chairmen Doc Hastings of the Natural Resources Committee and Bob Goodlatte of the Judiciary Committee,” Sablan recounted. “But at the last minute the Commonwealth government went to more conservative Republicans and sank the bill.”
To protect the groups of Marianas residents that H.R. 1466 would have helped, Sablan asked Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to provide parole. Mayorkas called Kilili on Thanksgiving Day that year to say yes to the Congressman’s request. The next Thanksgiving, Mayorkas again called Kilili to say that USCIS would extend the parole for another two years and make it renewable.
“I had a lot to be thankful for those two years,” Sablan said,
Meanwhile, he continued work on a legislative solution. He met with the bipartisan "Gang-of-Eight" Senators, who were writing a comprehensive immigration reform bill and asked them to include his permanent status language. They did, in Section 2109 of their bill S. 744, which then passed the Senate 68-32.
House Republicans, however, failed to act on this bipartisan effort to fix immigration.
In 2016, as Governor Torres worked with President Obama’s Special Representative in Section 902 consultations, Sablan introduced H.R. 5888 to support the effort. H.R. 5888 reflected Torres’ 902 positions and, again, included permanent status. But Republicans in Congress were not willing to support any proposals endorsed by the Obama administration.
“One thing I have learned in ten years in Congress,” Sablan said, “is to be persistent. Some of my most successful colleagues here have failed over and over again. But they do not give up.”