Kilili’s long-term residents relief bill passes House

Jun 3, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC – Permanent status in the Marianas for over a thousand people, who have been living in the islands under humanitarian parole granted by the Obama administration, passed the U.S. House of Representatives today. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan introduced the Northern Mariana Islands Long-Term Legal Residents Relief Act in January shortly after the Trump administration ended the parole program. The administration gave the parolees until June 29 to adjust their immigration status or leave the Marianas, but also backed Sablan’s effort to give them permanent status. Sablan’s bill, H.R. 559, passed the House on a bipartisan voice vote and now goes to the Senate, where prospects are uncertain.

     “With a strong bipartisan vote in the House and with the Trump administration backing the bill, we are in a strong position in the Senate,” Congressman Sablan said. “But time is against us. We have less than four weeks to win passage in the Senate and get the bill signed by the President.”

     Sablan’s bill covers five categories of individuals, all of whom have lived in the Marianas since before federal immigration was extended to the islands a decade ago. Some were born in the Marianas before the Covenant of Political Union with the United States came into effect in 1978. Others had been granted permanent resident status under Marianas law in the 1980s. Many are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. All must have remained lawfully present throughout their residence to qualify under terms of Sablan’s bill.

     This is not the first time Congressman Sablan has made progress on permanent status for these groups. He introduced similar legislation in 2009, his first year in Congress. In 2011, his bill, H.R. 1466, was scheduled for a vote in the House, but then-Governor Benigno Fitial effectively lobbied fellow Republicans to vote against the legislation.

     And in 2013, Sablan was able to have his measure providing permanent status made part of a larger immigration reform bill that passed the Democratic Senate. The Republican controlled House failed to take up the bill.

     In 2011, the Obama administration decided to give humanitarian parole to those covered by Sablan’s proposal, so they could remain lawfully present in the Marianas while Congress worked through the issue. The Obama administration then renewed the parole policy every two years. But the Trump administration decided not to do so in December 2018.

     Sablan’s Long Term Legal Residents Relief Act provides permanent status in the Marianas only and with no right of entry to any other part of the United States, except to transit through Guam. To be eligible an individual must have been continuously, lawfully present since before U.S. immigration law was extended to the islands. In December, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported there were 1,039 individuals who had been granted parole and who could be covered by Sablan’s bill.