The clock is ticking for more than 1,000 foreigners living in the CNMI under humanitarian parole. They must book their flights out of the commonwealth before June 29 -- unless President Trump promptly signs the Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act (H.R. 559).
Amid the anxiety build-up, the U.S. Senate on Thursday passed H.R. 559 which is now headed to the White House.
The humanitarian parole program for the CNMI was terminated on Dec. 31, 2018, but the federal government allowed a 180-day transition period, which ends on June 29.
If the president signed the bill before June 29, parole visa holders who have lived lawfully in the Marianas since 2009 would be able to stay and continue working in the CNMI.
“The Trump administration did not agree with use of executive authority to allow these long-term, legal residents to stay in the Marianas,” said CNMI Rep. Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan, the bill’s author.
“However, the Trump administration did agree that these 1,039 individuals should stay, if Congress provided a basis in law. The Trump administration drafted what became H.R. 559 and supported passage, when I held a hearing on the issue in February.”
Read related story
The humanitarian parole policy went into effect during President Obama’s administration following the federal takeover of the CNMI immigration system. It applies to spouses and parents of U.S. citizens in the Marianas, for immediate relatives of citizens of the freely associated state, certain stateless individuals and persons with permanent resident status, and in-home caregivers.
Sablan introduced his bill on Jan. 15, shortly after the Trump administration announced it was ending humanitarian parole for five groups of people in the Marianas.
“As always, I am particularly grateful to chairman Lisa Murkowski, who guided my bill quickly through the Senate after we passed it in the House on June 6,” Sablan said. “She was instrumental in extending the immigration transition period in 2014 and, again, with my U.S. Workforce Act last year. She understands why the Marianas needs special consideration when it comes to immigration issues; and she has been willing to use her political skills to help us.”
In a letter to Murkowski last week, CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres noted the urgency of action on H.R. 559, which he said “will provide a legal remedy for these individuals, their families, and the community that they continue to contribute to by granting them CNMI resident status within the Commonwealth.”