Wednesday, May 14, 2008

18. Some questions about P.L. 110-229.

There are many unanswered questions about how P.L. 110-229 will affect various people in the CNMI.

Here are some that may apply to MLSC clients:

What will happen to alien spouses?
The CNMI IR card will provide legal status only until its renewal date. The U.S. citizen spouse will likely have to apply for U.S. green card /immediate relative status for the alien spouse.

The fees for these applications are stiff, including costs for health certifications, etc. The U.S. citizen spouse will need to promise to financially support the alien spouse for 10 years or until the alien becomes a U.S. citizen (which first occurs). If the U.S. citizen spouse does not have sufficient income to be a financial guarantor, another additional sponsor for financial support will be needed.

What will happen to an alien spouse getting divorced from her/his U.S. citizen spouse?

The CNMI immigration does 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 haven't gotten green cards because the U.S. citizen spouse intentionally wanted to use the lack of permanent status as a means for control over the alien spouse. But sometimes, the married couple just couldn't afford the cost of the green card processing.

So now, in the CNMI, under current CNMI law, divorce means you lose your local "immediate relative" status.

This can be especially difficult for those who have been married for a long time and who have U.S. citizen children. A U.S. citizen spouse in the U.S. will almost always get a green card for his or her alien spouse because the alien spouse needs some legal status to reside in the U.S. In the CNMI, that "legal status" has been the less permanent, no-road-to-citizenship local immediate relative status for alien spouses.

So once the divorce is finalized, an alien spouse here will lose "local IR" status and be deportable. We are seeing spouses, after many years of marriage and children, in the process of divorce at this moment who appear to be unprotected by anything in P.L. 110-229.

What about widows and widowers here who were married to U.S. citizens?

At present, widows and widowers who were married to U.S. citizen spouses 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 their CNMI legal status will be extinguished on the transition date, and they will have no corresponding legal status under U.S. law. There is no clear category that they'll fit into under the new U.S. immigration system.

If they had been living in the U.S. during their marriage, the U.S. citizen-spouse would likely have applied for a green card for the alien spouse, as a means of providing legal residence in the U.S. And upon the U.S. citizen-spouse's death, the alien might have been entitled to continued permanent residence and eventual citizenship. Widows and widowers here were locked out of that protection by the CNMI IR status that did not provide for permanency. The Superior court decision tried to provide for what was lacking in the CNMI IR set-up, but there is nothing in the new federal law to address the issue.

What will happen to those with CNMI Permanent Residency?

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. It is unclear whether their status is extinguished by the U.S. law, or whether they are entitled to some more due process. At the very most, their situation will be problematic and they will have uncertain protection under U.S. law, and no clear category that they'll fit into under the new immigration system.

What protection will U.S. citizen minor children have for their alien parents?
Right now these U.S. citizen children are in jeopardy. They have a right to be here in the CNMI. But their parents don't, unless the parents have separate status. 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.

Under U.S. law, which will apply as of June 1, 2009, they may be able, in some special hardship cases, to have the U.S. withhold deportation of their parents. This may be most helpful to children who are disabled and handicapped. [See, INA sec. 240 (A)(b)(1)(D)] In the meantime, there seems little protection under current CNMI law.

Note, once children reach the age of 21, they can petition their alien parents in for immediate relative/green card status, even now.

What protection will be given to alien workers who have lived and worked a long time in the CNMI?
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.

Nothing in P.L. 110-229 addresses this concern immediately. It does provide for study of the possibility of providing permanent legal status to some.

What will happen to alien spouses of citizens from the Freely Associate States-FSM, Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands?
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.. 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, but no known legal means for providing status to alien spouses.

Other gaps from the transition? Solutions?
From this short list of potential problems, it appears that we need additional U.S. laws to protect these vulnerable people from falling between the cracks of the two systems-the out-going CNMI immigration system, and the in-coming U.S. immigration system. We also need some sympathetic local action that does not push people out to create slots for others, but tries to help as many aliens currently in the CNMI as possible.

Undoubtedly there are other aliens with tricky situations. If you have a specific problem, feel free to post about it in the comments section. It may be useful to those who are working on these issues.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

S. 2739. ISLA, n/k/a P.L. 110-229

ISLA—Immigration, Security, and Labor Act (originally H.R. 3079, included as Title VII in S. 2739) Passed the Senate on 4/10/2008; Passed the House on 4/29/2008; Signed by President Bush on 5/8/2008.

some key phrases in the intent section:
“effective border control”
“extending” U.S. immigration laws to the CNMI
“the orderly phasing-out of the nonresident contract worker program”
“the orderly phasing-in of Federal responsibilities...”
“providing a mechanism for continuous use of alien workers, to the extent those workers continue to be necessary to supplement the Commonwealth’s resident workforce”
“to protect those workers from the potential for abuse and exploitation.”

effective date: 1st day of the 1st full month commencing one year after enacted.
Thus, if this bill is signed promptly by President Bush (in May 2008), the effective date would be JUNE 1, 2009.

what happens? This law amends P.L. 94-241 (the Covenant), which had previously exempted the CNMI from the scope of U.S. immigration law, and allowed the CNMI to control its own immigration..

U.S. immigration laws, as defined in 8 U.S.C. § 1101 (a)(17)[1] go into effect in the CNMI on the start date of the transition period and subject to some exceptions/limitations:
(1) there will be a transition period where U.S. immigration laws apply, allowing entry of aliens under U.S. immigration categories, and operating in tandem with a program operated by U.S. immigration authorities that permits alien workers in the CNMI similar to the current CNMI immigration program under a special CNMI-only/special H Visa program.
(2) only the CNMI asylum/non-refoulement program will be in operation during the transition period; U.S. asylum / non-refoulement is not in operation in the CNMI during the transition period.

On the transition program effective date, all CNMI laws, provisions, and programs relating to the admission of aliens and their removal are superseded and replaced by U.S. law.

when is the transition period? start date[2] likely 6/1/2009 to end date 12/31/2013[3].

who’s in charge of immigration? The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Interior.

what happens now--in the pre-transition period? The federal agencies promulgate regulations to deal with the transition. Regarding the tourist visa-waiver program, the regulations must be promulgated within 180 days after enactment of ISLA.

The CNMI may not increase the number of aliens present in the CNMI after the date ISLA is enacted

delays? Possible. If there will be a delay, notice of delay must be published 30 days in advance of start date (i.e. 5/1/2009). The Secretary of Homeland Security (after consulting with the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Interior AND the CNMI Governor) may, in his sole discretion, delay the effective date of the transition program for a period up to 180 days. SO START COULD BE AS LATE AS 1/1/2010.

End of transition period can also be delayed as to the section d--CNMI-only/special H Visa program. See reports section, infra.

what happens to the aliens here under CNMI immigration laws? For any alien lawfully present on the start date of the transition period, that alien may not be deported until his CNMI entry permit expires or 2 years elapse, whichever FIRST occurs.

what about entry by aliens during the transition period?
1) Anyone eligible under any U.S. immigration law (including all of the H Visa categories, investor categories, etc.), may enter the CNMI as they would the U.S.

2) Workers under 8 U.S.C. § 1101 (1)(15)(H), without restriction of numerical quota limit. (H Visa)

3) Workers under special provision ISLA sec. 6d, in a CNMI-only/special H Visa[4] system where Secretary of Homeland Security allocates and determines numbers, terms, conditions to employers, and reduces yearly number allowed, eventually down to zero by 12/31/2013.[5] (sec. d CNMI only/special H Visa). Spouses and minor children admissible, too, under this special program.

1) Long-term investors on the start date under the current CNMI law may obtain “CNMI-only nonimmigrant investor” status under 8 U.S.C. §101(a)(15), provided they maintain the investment that formed the basis of their status.

tourists? The Secretary of Homeland Security may institute a visa waiver program for 45 day visits for business or pleasure, after consultation with Secretary of Interior, Secretary of State, Guam Governor and CNMI Governor. Tourists must sign certain waiver of rights.

asylum seekers? The CNMI asylum/non-refoulement program continues in effect. Aliens may not seek asylum under U.S. law until 1/1/2014.

alien spouses of FSM/Palau/RepMar citizens? There is no special provision for these persons. They will likely be considered as aliens with legal status until their permits expire or two years elapse, under the general provision about aliens in the CNMI.

what about transfers? There is a special provision that aliens who are admitted to the CNMI under section d (CNMI-only/special H Visas) may transfer between employers during the period of their lawful stay, without permission of the current or prior employer, but within authorized categories for CNMI-special H Visas.

what are the new fees for entry? whatever is usually charged for immigration matters, PLUS
1. $150 per non-immigrant worker; paid by §d (CNMI only/CNMI special H Visa program) employer during transition period. This money is remitted to the CNMI for vocational training and education.

what about permanent residency? For those aliens who have green cards (U.S. permanent residency) already, the CNMI is specifically deemed to be part of the U.S. and presence in the CNMI is “considered to be presence in the United States.”

For those aliens who have CNMI permanent residency (under laws that were eventually repealed in the 1980's), there is no clear answer in this new law about ability to adjust status or what status will be recognized.

For those who do not have permanent residency yet, but wish to apply, no grant of status is provided for in this law; however see “reports.”

what about removal/deportation? The Secretary of Homeland Security is the authority for issuing exclusion, deportation, and removal orders, starting on the transition date. He applies whatever U.S. or CNMI law is appropriate to the case.

what happens to employees of CNMI immigration? There is no specific provision for them. The CNMI immigration department will cease to exist when the transition period starts. TSA and other homeland security departments will take-over immigration operations, and will need qualified personnel.

future reports:

1) Secretary of Homeland Security, (consultation with Secretary of Interior and other departments) to Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and House Committee on Natural Resources, House Committee on Homeland Security, and House Committee on Judiciary by 12/1/2008. Report is about current and planned levels of TSA, Customs & Border Protection, Immigration & Customs Enforcement, USCIS, and Coast Guard personnel and resources necessary for fulfilling mission requirements in Guam and CNMI comparable to level provided at other similar ports of entry. Consider military build-up and anticipated growth in tourism.

2) Permissive/not required: annual report from CNMI Governor to President on implementation, with recommendations.

3) Secretary of Interior, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the CNMI Governor, to Congress, by 5/2010, on the number of aliens residing in the CNMI, their legal status, the number of years each has been in the CNMI, prediction of need by CNMI economy for future alien workforce, and recommendation about long-term status of workers.

4) GAO to Congress by 6/2010, assessing performance of federal agencies and CNMI Government in meeting congressional intent, short-term & long-term impacts of implementation on economy; and economic benefit of investors grandfathered in; and assessment of number of illegal aliens in CNMI.

5) President to Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate, and House Committee on Natural Resources, and House Committee on Judiciary by 3/1/2011, and every 3/1/ thereafter. Evaluating overall effect of transition program.

6) Secretary of Homeland Security to Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate, and House Committee on Natural Resources, and House Committee on Judiciary, by end of 3 years after start date (6/2012), on projected number of asylum claims

7) Secretary of Labor, after consultation with Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of Interior and Governor of CNMI, on current and anticipated labor needs in the CNMI, and shall publish notice in Federal Register, 180 days before end of transition period (6/30/2013), if determines need for CNMI-only/special H Visa workers warrants extension of transition period. Delay of end of transition for this special workers-entry program only—5 years at a time.

8) Permissive, not required. Secretary of Homeland Security (after consultation with Secretary of State and Secretary of Interior) to Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senate Committee on Judiciary, House Committee on Natural Resources, and House Committee on Judiciary, about feasibility of creating additional Guam or CNMI-only visa categories.(non-immigrant statuses for investors, students, and retirees, but not for employment) [any time].

[1] 8 USC §1101 (a)(17) The term "immigration laws" includes this Act and all laws, conventions, and treaties of the United States relating to the immigration, exclusion, deportation, expulsion, or removal of aliens.
[2] But see “delays” infra.
[3] But see “delays” and “reports” infra.
[4] Note that this special type of entry permit is not given a name in the ISLA; I call it a CNMI-only/special H Visa because of its characteristics. It will be up to regulations to give it an actual name.
[5] But see “delays” and “reports”.