Thursday, January 29, 2009

What’s Happening Again? Federalization and Aliens Living in the CNMI.

Part I

Some confusion seems to be swirling around a recent CNMI Immigration public service announcement regarding documentation and status when June 1 arrives. Let’s first turn to the main source. The Jan. 20 PSA states that aliens will lose CNMI status if outside the CNMI after June 1. The PSA goes on to explain that CNMI-issued documents relating to admission or immigration status will not be recognized by the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) for purposes of entering the CNMI. The PSA apparently was based on DHS advice.

These pronouncements appear consistent with Public Law 110-229. When federalization goes into effect on June 1 (with a possible delay of up to 180 days), the Immigration and Nationality Act will replace CNMI immigration law (except for those relating to asylum protection, which will continue through the transition period). All local laws and regulations on the admission of aliens will end, and with it, any benefits or status conferred by those laws. For those aliens traveling outside the CNMI during the switchover date, CNMI-issued documents that would normally provide for admission to the CNMI will not be honored by DHS.

Therefore, in one sense, the PSA is inaccurate, because CNMI-conferred immigration status will end, wherever you are.

Of course, that’s not the end of the inquiry. What else will happen in the wake of the switchover that will affect the tens of thousands of aliens living here? Here’s a summary of what we know, which is taken from the only source of law on the matter, which is Section 702 of Pub. L. 110-229 (see also the GAO report , which has been around for a while but is still an excellent source):

• Aliens lawfully present in the CNMI on June 1 will be allowed to remain here for the duration of their permit or 2 years, whichever is shorter.

• DHS will most likely set up a registration system to track their presence.

• For these aliens, they may apply for the standard suite of federal immigration benefits, such as an H visa or family-based green card.

• For aliens who aren’t eligible for federal immigration benefits, the CNMI-only worker transition program might provide an opportunity for these aliens to continue to live and work in the CNMI for the next several years.

The critical picture that seems to form from this is the repositioning of CNMI permit holders to the federal transition program. As opposed to what conclusions people may be drawing from the recent PSA, it’s this segue that I suspect will define the situation of the majority of aliens living here under a CNMI work permit, due to the difficulties in qualifying for a federal visa.

I’ll explain all of this in further detail in an upcoming post.

No comments: