Historic Move by President Obama on Immigration Reform

November 20, 2014


President Obama addressed the nation to announce he will take executive action to lift up millions of undocumented aliens, to unite families, to push forward immigration reform.

Thousands of supporters gathered and waved American flags outside the White House as the President spoke.

The text of President's Obama's speech:
My fellow Americans, tonight, I’d like to talk with you about immigration. 
For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose. 
But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it. 
Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart. 
It’s been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven’t done much about it. 
When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts. 
Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits. 
Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of a bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote. 
Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me – that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just. 
Tonight, I am announcing those actions. 
First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over. 
Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed. 
Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country. 
I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable – especially those who may be dangerous. That’s why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day. 
But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants – in every state, of every race and nationality – will still live here illegally. And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans. After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours. 
As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: “They are a part of American life.” 
Now here’s the thing: we expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. 
That’s what this deal is. Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive – only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you. 
I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time. 
That’s the real amnesty – leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability – a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up. 
The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century. And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary. Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a dealbreaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this. Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs from us right now is a common purpose – a higher purpose. 
Most Americans support the types of reforms I’ve talked about tonight. But I understand the disagreements held by many of you at home. Millions of us, myself included, go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking work to become citizens. So we don’t like the notion that anyone might get a free pass to American citizenship. I know that some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for over a decade. I hear these concerns. But that’s not what these steps would do. Our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for our economy and our society. And I believe it’s important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character. 
Because for all the back-and-forth of Washington, we have to remember that this debate is about something bigger. It’s about who we are as a country, and who we want to be for future generations. Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future? 
Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together? 
Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America? 
That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears. 
I know the politics of this issue are tough. But let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past few years, I have seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs, without taking a dime from the government, and at risk at any moment of losing it all, just to build a better life for their kids. I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers. I’ve seen the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love. These people – our neighbors, our classmates, our friends – they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success. 
Tomorrow, I’ll travel to Las Vegas and meet with some of these students, including a young woman named Astrid Silva. Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to the other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mother cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school for fear the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant – so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree. 
Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in? 
Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too. 
My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will. That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love.

As an immigration reform advocate, I view this action as a first step, a huge step, a historic step in the right direction.

The U.S. Congress must act to establish a permanent solution. Advocates and nonresidents are hoping the President's action will force Republicans to take action to institute long overdue comprehensive immigration reform.

As expected, frenzied Republican members of Congress are attacking President Obama's move.  For years the have taken on the role of blocking, dividing, and fighting instead of governing. By making this move the President has said, "Enough!"

In the midst of crazy comments from right wing Republicans like, "Obama is acting like an emperor", "Jail Obama", and "Impeach Obama"  Nancy Pelosi reminded the American people that the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) declared on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show tonight that he would go out now and help sign up people to register for the new program.

This is a not just a memorable day for undocumented aliens, but a memorable week for the farm workers across the country. The film, Food Chains is premiering across the nation this week. It is a documentary about the human cost of food.

Last year the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and supporters came to speak to my classes about the plight of our nation's farmworkers. They shared unedited clips from Food Chains. Much of it was filmed in Florida and highlights some protests we took part in.

This week I was honored to host Julia de la Cruz, a Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) farm worker from Mexico,  Claire Comiskey, a leader with the Interfaith Action and my friend Nico Grumbs, a leader with the Youth and Young Adult Farm Worker Ministry (YAYA). They are participating this weekend in a boycott of Publix supermarket in downtown Orlando and the premiere of Food Chains in Central Florida.

You cannot live in Florida and not be be aware of the exploitation and suffering of the migrant farm workers and their families. The farm workers put food on our plates, but do not have enough to eat. Thank a farm worker this Thanksgiving and watch Food Chains if you have the chance. (Go here.)

Obama to Address the Nation Tomorrow to Announce His Immigration Plan

November 19, 2014

President Obama will announce his plan to grant relief to undocumented aliens tomorrow night at 8:00 pm EST in a televised address. He expressed frustration with the gridlock and failure of the U.S. Congress to act on immigration reform.

After his announcement President Obama will be in Nevada trying to sell his plan. He hopes his action will encourage the U.S. Congress to finally act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The Republican leadership has threatened to block the upcoming spending bill and use other divisive tactics to deter the move.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated:
"Comprehensive immigration reform brings relief to families being torn apart by our broken system," he said. "Comprehensive immigration reform is an economic issue and one we must address. That's why I have been so disappointed that Republicans have ducked, dodged and skirted taking up legislation this Congress forcing President Obama to act administratively.
Despite the loud opposition from Republicans this presidential action is not new. Many former presidents have used executive action to provide amnesty or relief to undocumented aliens.  Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush extended amnesty to families who were not covered under the last major immigration overhaul in 1986. (See an immigration timeline.)

Polls show that the majority of Americans support immigration reform. From CNN:
Obama's position on immigration could be a popular one. Despite an overall wave of support for GOP candidates, 57% of this year's midterm election voters believe undocumented immigrants should have a chance to apply for legal status, while just 39% want them deported to the country they came from, CNN's exit polls found. 
Those exit polls found that 71% of U.S. midterm voters believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country legally if they meet certain requirements -- while 25% said those immigrants shouldn't be allowed to stay. 
A September CBS/New York Times poll found 51% saying Obama should use his executive powers to address immigration if Congress fails to act while 43% said he should not. A similar ABC/Washington Post survey earlier that month found 52% support for Obama acting on his own.
Now we wait to see if Delegate Sablan has convinced the Obama Administration to "exempt" the CNMI from his executive action.  

Time for a Change?

November 18, 2014

Has there ever been an administration in the CNMI that has regarded the nonresident workers as anything more than labor units? Probably not.

In fact, one of the CNMI administrations that has inflicted the most damage to the CNMI nonresident workers has to have been the Fitial-Inos one.  The list of their anti-foreign worker actions is a long one. I never trusted Fitial or Inos to do right by the nonresidents.  Both men are cast from the same mold – two ambitious politicians who will stop at nothing to keep their power and can be manipulated by ethically-challenged and greedy characters. A dark shadow of corruption follows both.

Both Fitial and Inos contributed to the exploitation and suffering of many nonresident workers, while employed as executives for L and T and while serving as leaders of the CNMI.

Disgraced ex-governor Fitial was set to be tried on nine corruption charges when Associate Judge David Wiseman dismissed the criminal charges against the notorious politician. The judge ruled that the Public Auditor did not have the authority to prosecute the case. Public Auditor Hasseback has asked Wiseman to reconsider his ruling.

It will be interesting to see how the judge rules or whether the newly elected CNMI Attorney General will file new charges against Fitial. If and when Fitial is tried, he may reveal what role, if any,  Inos played in his alleged criminal acts. The obvious role is accessory and enabler to a host of schemes.

Fitial's long time side kick, Eloy Inos is seeking re-election despite having some serious health issues, including diabetes, weekly kidney dialysis treatments, a recent heart procedure in the Philippines, and being hospitalized last week reportedly for the flu. Many question whether he is well enough to serve as the CNMI's top leader.

The duo began their partnership in Willy Tan's infamous L and T where both Fitial and Inos were executives.  There is something extremely ugly about immigrants like Tan treating other potential immigrants and foreigners as less than human, as labor units rather than as future citizens. Ugly also was the attitude of the executives towards the foreign workers.

In 2009 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled four discrimination lawsuits against L and T companies. The EEOC press release stated, " L and T Group of Companies, Ltd., the largest employer and conglomerate of garment manufacturers in Saipan, has agreed to pay $1.7 million and to provide far reaching and significant injunctive relief to settle a series of lawsuits filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that charged the company with retaliation and discrimination based on national origin, pregnancy and age, all in violation of federal law."

Eloy Inos served as a Tan executive from 1996 to 2006. He was vice-president of International Trade and government relations from 1996 to 2004, and vice-president for business development from 2004 to 2006.  He was called on to testify about the exploitation and discrimination for the EEOC case. His statement indicates he knew about the problems, but referred them to others.
In 1991 Willie Tan, owner of Tan Holdings was charged with the largest labor settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Labor in U.S. history. paying $9 million in back wages to cheated workers in his garment factories. He also paid $76,000 in OSHA violations and pledged $1.3 million in factory renovations. It is the less publicized, and perhaps more despicable treatment of L and T's  foreign workers that makes me cringe when I hear the names Tan, Fitial and Inos – the lack of adequate food, inaccessibility to drinking water, the deplorable living conditions, denial of proper medical treatment, termination of pregnant workers and alleged sexual abuses of female employees and on and on.

In 2010 Acting Governor Eloy Inos commuted the sentence of prisoner
Velma Jean Aldan Arriola who was sentenced in March 2010 to nine months in prison for "committing 30 counts of criminal offenses which included forgery, misuse of credit card, identity theft, theft by unlawful taking, and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received." Arriola was a former employee at the Revenue and Taxation Office of the Department of Finance. Eloy Inos was the Secretary of Finance when she committed her crimes.

The Marianas Variety reported:
The prosecution said the signatures of six taxpayers were forged by Arriola to pay the tax obligations of six other taxpayers who paid their taxes in cash.

Arriola received a total of $383.27, but her scheme involved 12 individual accounts, and victimized six taxpayers, the prosecution stated.
The lieutenant governor cited humanitarian reasons for why he commuted his former employee's sentence.
From the Marianas Variety:
Superior Court Associate Judge Ramona Manglona said Arriola’s conduct “undermined the trust placed in the commonwealth government by its taxpaying citizens and residents. Collection of tax money is the foundation of the commonwealth government’s livelihood. Her conduct causes a serious strain on the social contract between the…government and the governed. The government must hold its employees to the highest standards, a breach of that trust must be punished.”

Inos cited “humanitarian reasons” in commuting Arriola’s sentence.

Inos said Arriola “received support in her request for leniency from Speaker Froilan C. Tenorio, and Rep. Rafael S. Demapan…and other members of the community.”

ArriolaInos said, is the primary caretaker of her ailing mother and disabled brother for several years.

She is also single mother with a 12-year-old minor son in need of nurturing and guidance, Inos added.

“Velma, being a female, is culturally most acceptable and natural to provide the necessary care and assistance that her mother needs,” Inos stated.

“Velma is most familiar, knowledgeable and understood the needs and manner of care-giving that her ailing mother and disabled brother deserve.”

Inos said Arriola “has expressed remorse and regret for her actions.”

All the victims have been reimbursed, he added, citing the information he received from the Department of Finance.

“The ends of justice are served by granting [her] an opportunity to continue the path to a successful, law-abiding life,” Inos stated in his order.
Where was the humanitarian concern for the exploited nonresident employees of L and T? For any of the legal, longterm nonresident workers?

Aside from years of well-publicized and documented labor abuses, there are the ties to felons that are attributed to Tan-owned companies, Fitial and Inos. Willie Tan, Benigno Fitial and Eloy Inos are linked to convicted felons, including Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, Ed Buckham, Kevin Ring, Mark Zachares and others charged in the Abramoff lobbying scandal. Email exchanges between Tan, Abramoff and other felon--lobbyists appear in indictments, information and other court documents. The ties between Tan and Abramoff were also documented by U.S. and international press and documentaries such as Capitol Crimes by PBS.

In 1996 Jack Abramoff hosted Saipan garment magnate Willie Tan, his company executive, Benigno Fitial (former speaker of the CNMI House, former disgraced governor), and another Tan executive, Eloy Inos (former Secretary of Finance, Fitial's former lieutenant governor and present governor who is seeking re-election) at the 1996 Republican Convention held in San Diego, California.

It appears that the three CNMI visitors had a busy schedule at the GOP convention. Abramoff billed the CNMI for five days of meetings, meals, introductions to conservative members of Congress, and parties. Strategies were developed including plans to recruit still more potential CNMI-backers for junkets to the CNMI. From the billing records (emphasis added):
8/10/96 PP [Patrick Pizella] 2.70 Dinner meeting with W. Tan, E. Inos and B. Fitial re: CNMI issues—minimum wage , immigration and upcoming congressional elections and CNMI legislation; discussion re: upcoming trips of journalists and think tank representatives to CNMI and visits to Tan Holdings factory.
8/11/96 PP [Patrick Pizella] 4:30 Participate in event sponsored by Sen. Santorum's “FIGHT PAC” with W. Tan, E. Inos, B. Fitial and Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT); follow-up luncheon/discussion with staff director of Senate Energy committee- G. Renkes; introduction of B. Fitial to Cong. Dan Burton (R-IN).
8/13/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 4.00 Meetings at the Republican National Convention regarding Congressional Conservative Movement and Republican Party support for CNMI
8/13/96 JB [ Jonathan Blank ] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.
8/14/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 4.00 Meetings at the Republican National Convention regarding Congressional Conservative Movement and Republican party support for CNMI
8/14/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.
8/15/96 JB [ Jonathan Blank ] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.
The CNMI government (taxpayers) was billed a total of 39 hours for those meetings.

In exchange for all of the opportunities to network and gather support, John Pangelinian, publisher of the Tan-owned newspaper, The Saipan Tribune, made two $5,000 contributions to Santorum's Fight PAC in August 2006.

Fitial, Inos and Tan were the recipients of the infamous July 30, 1997 Secret Memo sent by Abramoff to outline their schemes to halt federalization. The plan included planting editorials and newspaper articles written by the lobbying team, writing speeches for members of Congress to read on the floor of the House, penning "Dear Colleague" letters, manipulating congressional hearings, defunding the Office of Insular Affairs, and getting "enemies" of the CNMI (federalization supporters) fired.

Willie Tan set up a company called Rose Holdings to hire felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to block federalization in an effort to protect his family's business interests in the CNMI.  The Standard reported:
In May 2002, Abramoff notified the US Senate that Rose Garden had hired him and Greenberg Traurig, his firm at the time, to represent Rose Garden's "interests before federal agencies and [the] US Congress." Abramoff recorded Rose Garden's address as a luxury flat in Tai Hang, above Causeway Bay, and its business as international trade.

Over the next year and a half, the records show, Rose Garden paid Greenberg Traurig US$1.4 million (HK$10.92 million) for putting its case to the Senate, House of Representatives and US Department of Labor. Hong Kong's Companies Registry has no record of Rose Garden Holdings; nor does the telephone directory.

The apartment listed by Abramoff as Rose Garden's premises has been owned since 1992 by Luen Thai Shipping and Trading, according to the Land Registry. Luen Thai Holdings and its controlling shareholders, the Tan family, were leading beneficiaries of Abramoff's Washington lobbying.
An email exchange between Abramoff and Tan showed that Tan paid a quarterly fee of $55,919 for the sky boxes used by the lobbyists to bribe staffers and members of congress to protect the interests of their clients, including the CNMI.

When the CNMI government ran out of lobbying money in 1998, the Tan companies and Tan-run organizations came to the rescue, according to an Asian Sentinel article:
When the government stepped out, the private sector stepped back in. The Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association teamed with the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and two other local business groups to form the Western Pacific Economic Council, which in turn paid Preston Gates US$2.4 million in 1999 and 2000 for lobbying.
In fact, in March 1999 The Western Pacific Economic Council contracted Abramoff to lobby against CNMI federalization and a raise in the minimum wage. The lobbying firm continued the original game plan they had drafted with Governor Pedero P. Tenorio, Speaker Fitial, and garment magnate Willie Tan. Inos was employed as Tan's vice president.

The Tan-Inos relationship continues. Under the Inos Administration the Department of Public Lands is leasing 4.8 hectares with five buildings to Tan Holdings for $100 a year.

The CNMI's nonresident  and resident workers can thank Governor Inos for keeping their wages low. He worked with Delegate Sablan to successfully block the scheduled minimum wage increase. (Read this June 2014 blog entry, State of the Commonwealth Spits in the Face of the Nonresident Workers.)

Both Fitial and Inos opposed action on the 2010 U.S. DOI Report that called for upgraded status of the nonresident workers. Their administration supported maintaining the nonresidents' status as a disenfranchised underclass rather than backing the DOI recommendation.

Will the CNMI ever elect leaders who respect the nonresidents and view them as future citizens, rather than mere labor units? There are some signs of hope. Ed Probst was elected to the House of Representatives. Some of the nonresidents' U.S. Citizen children are grown and voting in elections. Soon one may run for office and win.

Until the time when there are enough CNMI elected officials willing to take a moral stand for the islands' nonresidents, CNMI nonresidents will have to turn to the U.S. Congress and President Obama for any help to gain them long-awaited action to improve their status.

Countdown to Executive Action on Immigration

November 18, 2014

When I was young I used to have an Advent Calendar to countdown the days to Christmas. There was anticipation, but no guessing. The date was set.

Waiting for President Obama to take Executive Action on Immigration Reform is all anticipation and all guessing. At the end of Spring it was reported that executive action would be taken before summer. Summer came and passed. Then we were told it would happen after election. The election is over. Then the news was next week. Okay guys, it's next week now and. . . .

. . . some reports are that there has to be another delay. Some media outlets report that there will be no executive action until after a bipartisan spending bill passes. Meanwhile other media outlets say Democrats are backing the action now.

If Obama pushed immigration reform during his first term, it would have been passed. If Delegate Gregorio Sablan had insisted on immediate action on the 2010 U.S. Department of Interior's mandated recommendation on status for the CNMI's nonresidents (as was the intention of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act), a bill would have passed.  The uncertainty and anguish that hang over the CNMI's nonresidents would be gone.

If our elected leaders took action instead of playing political games, we could be discussing a decent minimum wage, tax reform, and a host of other issues that need immediate attention right now.  Instead we're still waiting for people to do the right thing. Or waiting for the next excuse not to do it.

Executive Action on Immigration Form Expected As Early As Next Week

November 13, 2014

Reports from a variety of news sources say that President Obama will announce his Executive Action Immigration Plan as early as next week.   Fox news reports that it will be a 10-point plan that will:
  • Prioritize deportations for serious criminals 
  • End ‘Secure Communities’ and start a new program  
  • Boost pay for ICE officers
  • Expand high-tech visas 
  • Strengthen border security 
  • Expand provisional waivers to spouses and children of legal permanent residents 
  • Expand parole allowing undocumented aliens with U.S. citizen children to have parole
  • Promote the naturalization process by reducing the application fee for the first 10,000 applicants
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said  he would fight the President tooth and nail if he follows through with his plan. Numerous other presidents have taken executive action on immigration

An estimated 5 million undocumented aliens would be included in the plan.  Will it help the LEGAL, long term nonresident in the CNMI most who have been hoping to be granted permanent residency status for decades? Will the undocumented aliens in the CNMI be included? Hopefully, they are not left out of any executive order. If anyone on U.S. soil deserves protection and upgraded status it is this group.

USCIS Extends Parole for Some CNMI Nonresidents Until 2016

November 9, 2014

USCIS has extended parole for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and certain "stateless" individuals until December 31, 2016.

Foreign relatives with minor U.S. children and others are welcoming the news.

Many of the foreigners who qualify for parole have lived in the CNMI for decades, previously as foreign contract workers under the former CNMI immigration program. Those with U.S. citizen children in public schools are relieved that they will not have to uproot their children to return to their homelands where there are no job prospects and less educational opportunities for their children.

From the Saipan Tribune:
Villafuerte, who hails from Cavite, Philippines, said she just wants to continue to bring up her 8-year-old U.S. citizen daughter on Saipan, an island that has been good to her since she came here in 1992. 
The single mother said she couldn’t imagine being deported back to the Philippines where her daughter will be bereft of government support like Medicaid and free education through the Public School System. 
Villafuerte, who currently works as a house worker, she has little to no chance of landing a job in her native country because on Saipan “as long as you’re a hard worker, employers don’t discriminate due to age,” she said in her native Tagalog. 
EC-2 Visa Program Could end January 1, 2015
Meanwhile nonresident investors in the CNMI are anxious to learn if the non-functioning U.S. Congress can get their act together long enough to pass legislation that would extend the EC-2 Visa Program until 2019. The program is set to expire on January 1, 2015.

They came from China, the Philippines, Korea and other Asian countries, years and even decades ago, to invest in small businesses in the CNMI. They opened upholstery shops, auto repair shops, beauty parlors, laundries, tailors, groceries and other small to medium-sized businesses. They have paid taxes, employed thousands, and boosted the CNMI economy.

Without an extension of the program, over 250  CNMI nonresident business owners and their family members will be out of status within two months. The majority of these people left their homelands decades ago to start a new life in the CNMI, many investing their life's savings.

The nonresident business owners who were lured to the CNMI, made the islands their home and contributed so much for years and decades do not qualify for green cards even though some of them estimate that over the years they have invested even more than $500,000 in the CNMI. The foreign investors would have to be a new business investing $500,000 to qualify under the EB-5 Program.

Unless a bill that would extend the EC-2 Visa program passes and is signed into law or the CNMI's legal, long term nonresident business owners are granted permanent residency by January 1, 2015, hundreds of small businesses would close. Many will be left jobless sending shock waves through the CNMI economy.

The years of contributions to the CNMI have certainly earned the legal, long term nonresidents – contract workers or business owners– permanent residency status. Extensions are like band aids, but granting them permanent residency with a pathway to citizenship will ensure a stable economy and remove the uncertainty.

The CNMI's exemption from U.S. asylum laws and the exemption from the H Visa caps are also set to expire on January 1, 2015.

The USCIS press release concerning extension of parole:
(USCIS) - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has extended until December 31, 2016 the parole program for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and certain “stateless” individuals, to allow these people to maintain legal status in the CNMI.
To apply for extension of this parole, you must:
• reside in the CNMI;
• be a legal spouse, unmarried child under 21, or parent (regardless of the age of your child) of a U.S. citizen, referred to as an “immediate relative”; and
• have been previously granted parole in order to follow this simplified extension request procedure.
Your request for extension of parole must include:
• letter from the immediate relative (or from the U.S. citizen family member if the immediate relative is a child who is too young to complete the parole request package) that:
• asks for an extension of parole;
• explains under what relationship you are requesting this parole (such as parent, spouse, child); and
• notes whether you have been arrested or convicted of any crime since your last request.
• form G-325, Biographic Information, completed within the past 30 days
• copy of your I-94;
• copy of any Employment Authorization Document that you received; and
• copy of your passport (only if a new one was issued since you last applied for parole.)
There is no fee for this extension request. We recommend that you keep a copy of all documents.
Seal all the above items in one envelope and clearly write on the outside of the envelope:
• Your name
• The expiration date of your current parole
You can make an appointment for your parole extension request at the USCIS office on Saipan. Or you can mail your request to:
Sirena Plaza, Suite 100
108 Hernan Cortez Avenue
Hagåtña, Guam 96910
This parole extension will allow the immediate relative to remain with the U.S. citizen lawfully in the CNMI, but parole does not authorize employment. Immediate relatives must, as before, obtain an EAD by submitting Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, or obtain work authorization as a CW-1 CNMI-Only Transitional Worker or other employment-based nonimmigrant status under federal immigration law.
This announcement does not extend to anyone other than the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and certain “stateless” individuals. USCIS may grant parole on a case-by-case basis based on the individual circumstances presented and has exercised parole authority on a case-by-case basis in the CNMI since 2009 for special situations.
USCIS is the agency within the Department of Homeland Security responsible for immigration benefits. For more information, visit its website at www.uscis.gov/cnmi/.

New CNMI Human Trafficking Immigration Visas

November 7,  2014

USCIS has posted the following memorandum concerning the New T Nonimmigrant Derivative Category and T and U Nonimmigrant Adjustment of Status for Applicants from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The site states that the memorandum is  interim guidance and effective immediately.

The final date for comments is November 13, 2014. You may comment at this link.


On Election Day: Push For WH Action On Immigration Reform

November 4, 2014

President Obama said he would take executive action on immigration reform after the election. Immigration advocates are wasting no time. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said as soon as polls close at 9:00pm technically that is after the mid-term elections and the President should act.

Gutierrez was joined by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to issue the following statement:

As Presidents before Him, Obama Has Authority to Act 
By Nancy Pelosi, Luis V. Gutiérrez and Zoe Lofgren

Last year, the Senate passed a bipartisan measure to repair our broken immigration system and strengthen our economy. That bill would be law today, but Republican leaders in the House refused to allow a vote. Consequently, President Obama promised to use his authority under existing law to achieve reform. We do not know exactly what the President will do or when he will announce it, but we are confident he will act.

Some Republicans claim the President has no authority to act, but they are wrong. The fact is, just as presidents before him, President Obama has broad authority to make our immigration system better meet the needs of our country and reflect our shared values. And every Administration since President Dwight D. Eisenhower has used executive authority to do just that.

In addition to taking steps to make our immigration enforcement efforts more humane, there are dozens of reforms that the President can adopt. Two that could have the greatest impact involve the expanded use of his deferred action and “parole” authorities.

Presidents have broad authority to defer removal when it is in the national interest, and past presidents have regularly used this authority. In the years immediately following the enactment of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush took bold action to protect the spouses and children of people who received status under that law. Although Congress explicitly chose not to grant status to these people – an estimated 1.5 million people – Presidents Reagan and Bush recognized that it was not in the national interest to separate families. Using their authority to establish a “Family Fairness” program, they offered spouses and children indefinite protection from deportation and work authorization.

Presidents have used this authority repeatedly in the face of congressional inaction. Dating back more than 50 years, presidents have granted Extended Voluntary Departure to nationals of more than a dozen countries, including Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Poland, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Uganda. President George H.W. Bush granted Deferred Enforced Departure to Chinese nationals after the Tiananmen Square massacre even though he vetoed a similar bill passed by Congress. Several years later he granted the same status to 200,000 Salvadorans.

Likewise, President Obama could defer action against persons who would be covered by the Senate-passed bill that Republicans blocked. Like Presidents Reagan and Bush, he could use his authority to prevent family separation – this time of undocumented close family members of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, or DACA beneficiaries. Similarly, he could recognize that it is “essential for agriculture” that farmworkers who toil in our fields do so without fear.

Another broad authority under existing law the President has at his disposal is to “parole” persons into the country “on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”

Once again, this authority is not unprecedented. Presidents Ford and Carter “paroled” into the country hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush both used “parole” authority for families who were ineligible for or denied refugee status. President George W. Bush also created a program to “parole” into our country Cuban nationals who would otherwise be forced to wait abroad for a visa number. President Obama recently announced plans to create a similar program for certain Haitians.

Similarly, the President could “parole” into the country the spouses, sons, and daughters of American citizens and lawful permanent residents who face lengthy separation waiting for a visa. Doing so would not permit family members to skip the line, but it would allow them to wait in line with their family until a visa number becomes available.

Last year, the Administration also formalized a policy of paroling “in place” the spouses, children and parents of military personnel and veterans already here in the United States. Through parole in place, military family members who entered the country without being inspected may become eligible to obtain lawful permanent residence without having to leave the country for ten years. This corrects a gross unfairness in immigration law that overwhelmingly harms persons from the Americas.

The President can build upon his “parole in place” policy for military families to benefit countless other mixed-status families. He can similarly use this authority for immigrants whose talents are so great that they can create jobs here in America, who are part of significant research, innovative efforts or professional work that makes our economy stronger. These initiatives are of significant public benefit to our country.

Those who oppose immigration reform would have us believe that administrative action amounts to “rewriting the immigration laws.” We all know that no president can rewrite the laws. But it is important to remember that Congress and the Constitution give presidents broad authority to take executive action on immigration policy, and past presidents have used this authority generously. That President Obama has pledged to do so as well is not cause for consternation, but is consistent with a president’s well-established authority under existing law.

Although it is ultimately the job of Congress to reform our immigration laws, we nevertheless look forward to the President’s bold and meaningful action to improve the lives of Americans and immigrants alike and advance the interests of our nation.
(The authors are Members of Congress and advocates for comprehensive immigration reform).