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According to Reuters, the partial U.S. government shutdown is showing signs of straining the country’s immigration system and has been blamed for worsening backlogs in courts and complicating hiring for employers. U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to continue the shutdown until he gets the $5 billion he is seeking for a wall on the Mexican border. About 800,000 federal employees have been affected by the shutdown, including border patrol agents who are working without pay. Wochit

A few weeks ago, families in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas learned they may be separated as a humanitarian parole program draws to a close.

The number of people affected isn’t large – about 1,500 immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and Freely Associated States citizens have been allowed to remain in the Northern Mariana Islands under the program, which ended Dec. 31.

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Still, for those who face separation, the burden can be huge. Children who have only known life in the United States will either be left here with people who are not their parents, or they will travel to their parents’ home countries and face a new world altogether.

If our country values family relationships, we should do everything we can to keep families together, not divide them based on arbitrary policy decisions.  

Humanitarian parole program

The humanitarian parole program started when CNMI immigration was transitioning from local to federal control, and workers were allowed to stay in the Northern Marianas. Many have children born in the Northern Marianas who are U.S. citizens. Other people affected are spouses of citizens from Palau, the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia.

In January 2017, President 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.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 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.

Families were given notice that the program was ending just a few days earlier.

They are facing tough times already

Mercifully, the federal government will authorize a 180-day transitional parole period and extension of employment authorization document, if applicable, up to June 29. That will at least give families a chance to make a plan.

People in the Northern Marianas, including those who are there under the humanitarian parole program, are facing tough times already in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yutu. There should be no rush to disrupt lives and separate families.

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