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Families face separation as US ends Obama-era immigration programs in CNMI – Pacific Daily News

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Norlita Ordonio thought Super Typhoon Yutu was her family’s worst nightmare.

Then on Dec. 27, she learned she could soon be removed from Saipan and taken away from her American children, ages 10 and 14.

“It worries me a lot that I would be separated from my children. Who would feed them and care for them?” she said.

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Saipan is the only home her children know, since they were born and raised on the island, and moving them elsewhere would take them out of their home and leave behind their friends, school and community. Children born in the CNMI are U.S. citizens.

Originally from the Philippines, Ordonio was legally hired to work on Saipan for several years until the company closed its business. During her working years, she had two children born on the island.

Through a humanitarian parole, which started when CNMI immigration was transitioning from local to federal control, Ordonio was able to legally stay on Saipan and find work to raise her children.

1,500 and their families impacted

On Dec. 31, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ended the Obama-era humanitarian parole programs that have allowed some 1,500 immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and Freely Associated States citizens to remain in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Among those affected by the terminated programs are non-American parents of minor U.S. citizens and spouses of citizens from Palau, the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia.

Also affected are the families of so-called “stateless” persons, or those individuals born to non-U.S. parents in the CNMI from Jan. 9, 1978 to Nov. 4, 1986. They failed to obtained U.S. citizenship as this was the intervening period between the adoption of the Covenant that established island political relationship with the U.S. and its implementation.

The decision also ends the immigration program that allows certain in-home caregivers of CNMI residents to remain on the islands.

“The decision to terminate the program was announced on Dec. 27, just four days before the program actually ended. So many families would have to live apart, or American children would have to be sent to places they don’t know about,” said Bonifacio Sagana, president of Dekada Movement, which has been helping people under humanitarian parole to legally remain in the CNMI.

Humanitarian parole is used to bring someone who is otherwise inadmissible, into the U.S. temporarily due to a compelling emergency, according to USCIS.

The humanitarian parole is separate from the CNMI-only transitional worker program authorization that allows foreign workers to work in the CNMI.

Trump in July 2018 extended this worker program through Dec. 31, 2029, and increased the cap for so-called CW-1 workers for fiscal 2019, from 4,999 to 13,000.

Trump’s executive order

In January 2017, Trump issued an executive order requiring the Department of Homeland Security secretary to “take appropriate action to ensure that parole authority…is exercised only on a case-by-case basis.”

USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said he reviewed Trump’s executive order and concluded that the CNMI categorical parole programs “represent a broader implementation of the parole statute than is appropriate” so these programs would have to be terminated by Dec. 31, 2018.

“USCIS is issuing individual notices to those requesting parole extensions, and communications materials to ensure these parolees are aware that the program is ending,” Cissna wrote in a Dec. 27, 2018 letter to CNMI Del. Gregorio Kilili Sablan.

180-day extension

Cissna’s letter said while the programs were ending Dec. 31, 2018, USCIS will authorize a 180-day transitional parole period and extension of employment authorization document, if applicable, up to June 29, 2019.

“This transitional parole period will give individuals time to prepare to leave without accruing unlawful presence or to seek another status,” Cissna wrote Sablan.

Sablan said he would have preferred USCIS to continue the humanitarian parole system for another two-year period, as the Obama administration did in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

“I recognize, however, that the Trump administration does not think that parole should be applied to a large category of people. It is meant to be applied strictly on an individual, case-by-case basis,” Sablan said.

He thanked Cissna for the 180-day transitional period, and encouraged anyone with humanitarian parole to apply for an extension as soon as possible since the extension is not automatic.

Sablan said based on conversation with Cissna, USCIS received only about 500 request for parole extensions, as of Dec. 27.

‘Uncertainty’

Those who have humanitarian parole are allowed to legally work if they have an approved employment authorization document. But once their humanitarian parole ends, they have to stop working.

Michael P. Baldonadi, 45, had to stop working as a cook for a major hotel, Granvrio Resort Saipan, on Dec. 31 when the humanitarian parole ended.

“Right now I’m feeling uncertain about my immigration status and my family’s condition,” he said. Baldonadi is taking care of his 17-year-old U.S. citizen child. 

He said he applied for an extension of his original humanitarian parole a few months before the program was announced to end.

“Now I am waiting for USCIS’ decision about my request for extension, but I already had to stop working. If there’s no extension granted and it’s already June, I would be forced to separate from my child,” Baldonadi said.

Cissna wrote that his decision does not preclude individuals paroled under this program from seeking parole on a case-by-case basis if the applicant demonstrates an urgent humanitarian or a significant public benefit reason for parole, and that the applicant merits a favorable exercise of discretion.

Legislative fix

USCIS’ Cissna said it is appropriate that Congress address the permanent status of individuals previously covered by these parole programs.

Sablan said he is working on a legislative fix that would give those now on parole some permanent status.

The delegate also previously introduced a bill that seeks to provide a pathway to permanent status for long-term foreign workers and investors in the CNMI.

According to USCIS, the CNMI parole programs that are terminated affect:

  • Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and certain stateless individuals
  • CNMI permanent residents
  • Immediate relatives of CNMI permanent residents
  • Immediate relatives of citizens of the Freely Associated States such as the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau
  • Certain in-home foreign worker caregivers of CNMI residents. 

After any parole authorized through these programs expires, USCIS will not renew that parole, the agency said.

Reporter Haidee Eugenio covers Guam’s Catholic church issues, government, business and more. Follow her on Twitter @haidee_eugenio. Follow Pacific Daily News on Facebook/GuamPDN and Instagram @guampdn. 

 

 

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