Friday, May 9, 2008

230. S. 2739 / P.L. 110-229 --what now?

The good news--President Bush signed S. 2739 into law. Read the details, press releases, and celebrate at Wendy's blog.

I'm concerned about

1) spouses who are being divorced.

The CNMI immigration did not require U.S. citizen spouses to get U.S. green cards for their alien spouses. So alien spouses in the CNMI have not had any way to gain permanent residency when their U.S. citizen spouses did not get them green cards.

Sometimes they don't get green cards because the U.S. citizen spouse intentionally wants to use the lack of permanent status as a means for control over their alien spouse.

But sometimes, they just can't afford the cost of the green card processing.

So now, in the CNMI, divorce means you lose your local "immediate relative" status. Just today I looked at a woman's application for help in a divorce case where she has teen children, has been living in the CNMI and been married to a U.S. citizen for more than 15 years, and now has been served with divorce papers after separating from her spouse several months ago.

In the U.S., she would have gotten a green card soon after the marriage, and would now already be a U.S. citizen. Here, once the divorce is finalized, she'll lose her "local IR" status and be deportable. She'll be "illegal" when U.S. immigration kicks in next June 1, 2009, unless she manages to get hired on as a contract worker.

This seems so wrong. Her kids are U.S. citizens, but still too young to petition her in. This is not a one-person issue--there are many spouses in this situation, spouses without green cards, spouses whose marriages are of long duration, but aren't surviving the stresses of life now.

2) Widows.

As noted above, spouses do not all have green cards. In the U.S., there's a requirement for U.S. citizen spouses to get their alien spouses green cards if they live in the U.S. So there's a corresponding law that upon divorce of the U.S. citizen spouse, the alien spouse has no status, except or unless s/he has a green card. (This prevents alien spouses of U.S. citizens living abroad from automatically claiming a right to relocate and live in the U.S.) But alien spouses living in the U.S., upon widowhood, generally continue to have a right to their green card status.

In the CNMI, alien spouses who have faced this issue upon the death of their U.S. citizen spouse have been granted by the Commonwealth Superior Court recognition that they have a right to remain in the CNMI, that the death of the U.S. spouse does not extinguish their "immediate relative" status under CNMI law. The CNMI Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue.

So on June 1, 2009, when U.S. immigration takes over, these widows and widowers will probably be considered legal, but will have uncertain/no protection under U.S. law. And no clear category that they'll fit into under the new U.S. immigration system.

3) "CNMI Permanent Residents."

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, the CNMI had a "permanent residency" law that allowed aliens to become permanent residents of the CNMI. Something like 200+ permits were issued under this law. When the law was repealed, these "permanent residents" retained their status.

On June 1, 2009, when U.S. immigration takes over, these "CNMI permanent residents" will be legal, but will have uncertain/no protection under U.S. law, and no clear category that they'll fit into under the new immigration system.

4) U.S. citizen children who are minors with alien parents.

I feel for these kids. They're U.S. citizens. They have a right to be here in the CNMI. But their parents don't. As the economy continues to plummet downward, these parents are not only losing the economic security of having a job, but with job loss these parents face deportation as no longer having a legal status.

It's the kids who will suffer. They will either be left here with others to care for them--breaking up the family, or they'll move with their parents back to the parents' home country--suffering disruption and other problems. Maybe they'll come back when they're old enough or have the money, but they'll not forget how their parents were made to suffer without status.

5) Long-time workers facing unemployment.

As noted above, we have a lot of aliens who have lived in the CNMI for five, ten, twenty, and more years. For those who have decades of employment behind them, but now find themselves without jobs in our dwindling economy, they're just missing the boat by a fraction of an inch. It seems unfair.

If anyone should get status, it should be those who have worked and contributed to the CNMI for the longest time period, even if they've lost their most recent job in the economy.

Edit--adding #6, thanks to Lil Hammerhead:
6. Alien spouses of citizens from the Freely Associated States-FSM, Palau, RepMar. Years ago, Judge Munson ruled in a case filed by V.K. Sawhney that the CNMI couldn't just start re-classifying these alien spouses as "aliens" when they are married to people who were former TT citizens with a full right to live here (especially for those who had legal status as spouses when the Covenant went into effect). So the CNMI continued to give them IR status. Now they will face the same challenge as we transition from CNMI immigration to U.S. immigration, only against U.S. law (which I doubt will be as kind as Judge Munson's interpretation of due process). They have marriages, children, lives in the CNMI. But they're married to FAS citizens who have the right to live here by virtue of the Compact of Free Association.

What I think we need:

1) an immediate halt to new immigration of incoming aliens except for tourists; and an immediate halt to deportation except for tourists overstaying their entries that start today. Stripping the CNMI of these powers during the interim before the effective date of the U.S. immigration would prevent further harm.

2) an amnesty provision that grants "legal" status for up to 3 years (1 year of pre-U.S. immigration and then 2 years after transition start date)to all aliens here, whether workers, spouses, widows, permanent residents, students, or those just hiding out, coupled with a registration requirement. Any alien not registered when U.S. immigration takes control could automatically be deported.

3) a permanent residency track for those who have been here the longest. This could be done either by deciding on a specific number of years--e.g. been here 5 years (7 years; 10 years...) or it could be done by granting a specific number of permanent residency slots ( e.g. 1,000; 3,000; 5,000, 7,000...), starting with the aliens who have been here the longest and moving forward until the number of slots has been filled.

This would give us an "alien" worker population for industry and commerce; it would provide some certainty as we head into the transition; it would defeat the CNMI's current efforts to do a little last "kicking while they're down" of aliens here; and it would be nice to people who've not always been treated with the greatest respect.



Wendy said...

Could I contact you to discuss this? I was not aware of the status situation for widows, but I have been pounding home the other ones. Also, I have received several emails from workers who have US citizen children with serious illnesses or disabilities. I was informed by a Senate staff member that there is a law that alien parents of US citizen children with special needs cannot be deported. The message was vague. Can you help me with this? A couple is planning to leave the CNMI without their child -please help! Thanks so much

Jim Rayphand said...

Thank you for writing about this issue...

Am interested in learning more about law concerning parents of special needs children per Wendy's response...

We just referred a lady in this situation to Micronesian Legal services -- she lost her job and has child with disability... not sure what, if any, protections she has for staying in the CNMI. Her children are all U.S. citizens..

Any info. would be helpful...Jim

Saipan Writer said...

Right now, I don't see adequate protections for any of these people. This is why I flag their situations as "concerns." The U.S. law about withholding of deportation (which may help parents of special needs children) isn't yet applicable, to my knowledge. I will check further.

lil_hammerhead said...

There are also more than a few spouses of FSM and Republic of Palau citizens who are scrambling around trying to figure out what they need to do. I've heard that their only avenue may be seeking citizenship from one of the freely associated states.

Saipan Writer said...

Absolutely right, Lil. They're on my mental list, and somehow I forgot to add them-so thanks to you, I'll edit this blog post to include them.

808 said...

I wonder if Saipan will be more like Guam now.