CNMI’s Sablan To Push Path To Citizenship For Foreign Workers
By Haidee V. Eugenio
SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 7, 2013) – Fresh from his swearing in for a third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said that besides continuing to focus on education, healthcare, and natural resources, he will also introduce a "broader" version of H.R. 1466 that will include a "fifth" group of individuals eligible for a CNMI-only resident status. The delegate said the measure could also be drafted to provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship for legal, long-term foreign workers in the CNMI as part of a national immigration reform under Obama's second term.
Sablan was among the 441 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sworn in Thursday in the nation's capital (Friday morning, CNMI time).
"When I raised my right hand and took the oath, I said that with a prayer, asking God to help me, guide me into doing the right thing," Sablan said in an interview with Saipan Tribune minutes after his ceremonial swearing in by U.S. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Boehner had just survived the defection of a handful of Republicans, winning the final vote tally 220 to 192 over House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California).
Sablan's swearing in was also a day after President Obama signed a compromise bill to thwart a fiscal cliff that would have raised taxes for millions of Americans.
Among the 113th House's first official acts were the adoption of the rules that will govern the House during the 113th Congress.
The Republican caucus-drafted rules once again denied delegates from the CNMI, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico the right to vote in the Committee of the Whole.
Sablan is an independent caucusing with Democrats in Congress.
The delegate's ceremonial swearing in was attended by his wife Andrea and other guests in the nation's capital. Another ceremonial swearing in will be held weeks later on Saipan.
'Broader version of 1466'
Immigration remains a contentious issue at the national level, but the U.S. president himself tagged it among his priorities.
Sablan's new immigration bill in the 113th Congress would include some of those previously not covered in the four groups under HR 1466, including nonresident workers who have been lawfully present in the CNMI for at least five years as of May 2008 and without U.S. citizen children.
The delegate cautioned, though, that the qualifications and justifications for this fifth group are still being worked on and are therefore open to recommendations.
For example, the five-year requirement could be changed to seven or 10 years. The May 2008 reference date could also be changed.
"I am not sure when immigration is going to be taken here in Congress, whether it’s in the first two years of this administration or the next two years. Obviously we need the president’s support on any immigration issue and he said he’s going to support comprehensive immigration reform. How we approach that will depend on a lot of things," the delegate said.
Also among the first few bills he will be re-introducing is the 3-mile submerged lands bill that he said will be termed "territorial sea" legislation.
Sablan is the first and so far the only CNMI delegate to the U.S. Congress as a result of a 2008 law that also placed the Commonwealth's immigration under federal control. He was re-elected in 2010 and 2012. Each term consists of two years.
"I am humbled," Sablan said after his ceremonial swearing-in. "I am not here to make history. I ran to make a difference in peoples’ lives."
He marks his third term in Congress amid another try to impeach Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, a resurging CNMI tourism industry and less than two years before the end of the transition to federal immigration.
In the Nov. 6, 2012, mid-term elections in the CNMI, Sablan won by landslide against his Republican opponent, Dr. Ignacia "Acha" Demapan. Sablan got 9,829 votes against Demapan’s 2,503-a remarkable 7,326-vote lead.
This vote margin is considered historic as Sablan is the first political candidate who recorded such a high winning total over an opponent. Sablan received 78 percent of the total ballots cast by the Commonwealth Election Commission in the 2012 polls.
Delegates denied vote again
During the Jan. 3 inauguration of the members of the 113th Congress, the Republicans once again denied the territories such as the CNMI the right to vote in the Committee of the Whole.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C. offered a motion to send the rules back to committee with instructions to determine whether there is any reason to deny the voting right, but the motion failed, 224 - 187.
Sablan's office said when the Democratic Party had the majority in the House, the rules have allowed the resident commissioner and delegates to vote in the Committee of the Whole, which is where bills are debated and amended before final action by the House of Representatives.
The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the delegate vote in 1994, after it was first put in place, but since then under a Republican majority, the vote has been denied. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer has also taken the delegates' side, offering his own amendment, H.Res.14, to allow the delegate vote.
Even if this were to pass, though, there is a larger issue, as Sablan pointed out in his floor statement.
"The 5 million Americans in the District of Columbia and the U.S. insular areas live under laws not fully of their making. That is not the ideal of representational democracy our founders envisioned in the Constitution. My colleagues and I asked today to have our vote in the Committee of the Whole restored. Yet, ultimately, we must all set our eyes beyond that limited goal and decide that every United States citizen-no matter where in America they may live-must be fully represented here in the people's House," Sablan said.
The delegate said he will continue to look for ways to restore the Committee of the Whole vote and-more importantly-to obtain the right to full voting representation in Congress for the people of the CNMI.
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