Crackdown on visa overstays

If not giving birth or working at construction sites, illegal aliens are driving cabs on Saipan

An aerial photograph of tourists on a sand bar in front of the Hyatt Regency hotel on Saipan.

Chunxiao Chen, a citizen of China, was pulled over by police patrol for traffic violation earlier this year. She was later found to be in possession a fake CNMI driver’s license. A subsequent investigation necessitated the feds to step in after it was revealed that Chunxiao had long been overstaying on Saipan.

Chunxiao was authorized to stay on Saipan only for a week, from Oct. 23 to 30, 2013, based on the conditional parole granted by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Somehow, she managed to hide for many years from immigration authorities, illegally working as a taxi driver until her arrest on May 16. Chunxiao has since been deported after being convicted of using fake documents.

That one traffic stop has opened a can of worms. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has discovered similar cases and uncovered the possible existence of an illegal taxi syndicate that hires illegal aliens who entered Saipan under conditional parole. It raises curiosity as to how illegal aliens— wandering around a tiny island — manage to dodge detection by immigration authorities for many years.

The feds later prosecuted two other similar cases: Xiaomei Wu, who was granted a conditional parole on March 3, 2017, and Ercang Yang, who came to Saipan on Dec. 28, 2015 and was granted a conditional parole that was good until Jan. 14, 2016. Both also worked illegally as taxi drivers.

That one traffic stop has opened a can of worms. Investigators have uncovered an illegal taxi syndicate that hires illegal aliens who entered Saipan under conditional parole. It raises curiosity as to how illegal aliens — wandering around a tiny island — manage to dodge detection by immigration authorities for many years.

The name of a certain “Uncle Zhang” popped up during local and federal investigations. The arrested overstaying Chinese tourists told investigators that “Uncle Zhang” helped them get a CNMI driver’s license for a fee.

In the case of Xiaomei, the CNMI Bureau of Motor Vehicles provided federal immigration officials with his passport and I-797 form, showing he was a holder of a CW-1 visa, which allows foreign workers to be legally employed in the Commonwealth.

Sources said this could be just the tip of iceberg as more suspicious tourists are under watch for possible abuse of the parole program, which allows foreign nationals to enter or remain in the United States for a limited period.

The parole program for the CNMI, which has opened the floodgates for immigration abuse, is currently under review. The visa program has been exploited by Chinese tourists who came to the CNMI only to give birth and have their child earn a U.S. passport. Birth tourism has grown rapidly from only eight childbirths by Chinese nationals in 2009 to 1,034 between January 2014 to October 2016, based on statistics provided by the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.

Two years ago, Chinese tourists were also caught working as construction workers at the still-to-be- finished Imperial Pacific Resort in Garapan. Hundreds of workers were victims of labor abuse such as unpaid overtime and delayed salaries, and were living in poor employees’ quarters.

The Trump administration had been cracking down on aliens who entered U.S. soil illegally. President Donald Trump had vowed drastic reforms on U.S. immigration as one of his key campaign promises during the 2016 elections.

It is not yet known whether this would affect the ongoing review being done by Homeland Security, which already removed Russia from the program.

CNMI officials and stakeholders of tourism industry said terminating the parole authority for Chinese nationals could hurt the CNMI economy since its tourists comprise the second-biggest market for the Commonwealth’s main industry, next only to the Koreans. CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is appealing to Washington D.C. not to end the program.

In 2018, the direct impact of Chinese arrivals amounted to $183.73 million directly provided $31.50 million in government revenue- or 12.2 percent of the government's budgetary resources.

Meanwhile, the federal government ended the visa-free entry for Russian citizens to Guam and the CNMI effective Sept. 3.

"Under discretionary parole policies, Department of Homeland Security has granted parole on a case-by-case basis to nationals of the Russian Federation to enter Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for temporary visits for business or pleasure for up to 45 days provided the traveler meets certain conditions," states the DHS notice posted on the Federal Register.

The DHS said requiring Russian citizens to obtain visa would boost U.S. safety and national security because all applicants will generally undergo advanced screening and recurrent vetting by the State Department that includes an in-person visa interview. "The perceived negative economic impact of discontinuing discretionary parole Russian nationals in the CNMI and Guam would be offset by admission of the availability of traditional B-1 visas for business and B-2 visas for pleasure," the document said.

The DHS acknowledged the possible negative impact of the announced change on certain businesses in Guam and the CNMI, but said it believes that any such impact should be mitigated by the fact that bona fide visitors from Russia generally would be able to obtain a visa to allow them to visit.

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