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OFWs in Marianas seek approval for US citizenship

From: RJAB Jr./ GMANews.TV

SAIPAN, CNMI – Overseas Filipino workers and their families led Sunday’s motorcade and assembly in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), to ask the US Congress to quickly approve a recommendation to grant long-term immigration status to foreign workers who have been legally staying in the CNMI for at least five years.

The Obama White House, through the US Department of the Interior, recommended conferring US citizenship or permanent residency leading to US citizenship, along with three other options, to foreign workers who have been legally in the CNMI for at least five years.

The CNMI is a US territory in the Western Pacific some three hours away from Manila.

It is home to some 20,000 OFWs and their relatives. The OFWs here work in almost every profession in the private sector as nurses, engineers, architects, teachers, journalists, accountants, clerks, house maids, hotel employees, waiters, and farmers.

There are more than 15,816 foreign workers, mostly OFWs, who have been in the CNMI for five years or more, and another 2,221 who have been here for three to five years.

OFWs at the motorcade and assembly called on the US Congress to act immediately on the Interior recommendation, saying they would like to be given permanent residency or US citizenship, and remain in the CNMI.

But CNMI Governor Benigno R. Fitial, who is on his way to Washington, DC, said he would ask the US Congress not to act on the Interior recommendation until his government is consulted, especially on the proposed improved status of foreign workers.

US Public Law 110-229, the same law that placed CNMI immigration under US control on Nov. 28, 2009, required Interior to come up with a recommendation on the status of long-term workers in the CNMI.

Allan Miones, 47, has been an OFW in the CNMI capital of Saipan for 19 years and now has three children, two of them US citizens. He was one of the thousands of foreign workers who took part in Sunday’s motorcade and assembly.

“My family will be able to stay together if I get improved status. I won’t be sent home and separated from my children if I get permanent residency or become a US citizen,” Miones told GMANews.TV in an interview Sunday.

Should Miones, who hails from Ozamis City in Mindanao, lose his legal immigration status in the CNMI by 2014 or earlier, he would be forced to exit the CNMI.

He could either bring with him his two US citizen children — Kaile Christine, 9, and Alani Rue, 5 — or leave them in the CNMI which is their only known home.

Nenita Orosco, 45, from Capiz in Western Visayas, said she does not want to be separated from her two US citizen children if she loses her job and is forced to exit the CNMI. She said she also does not want to uproot the children from the CNMI where they are studying.

Supporters of foreign workers in the CNMI have been saying that foreign workers who spent five years, even decades of their lives helping build the CNMI economy deserve an immigration status not tied to a yearly contract.

Dr. Gene Sylvester Eagle-Oden, one of the speakers at the assembly, said long-term foreign workers are asking for a “right,” not a privilege.

At the assembly, event organizers distributed copies of statements from Bandila and US-based Filipino-American community leader and lawyer Rodel Rodis, expressing support for the CNMI nonresident workers’ quest for green card or US citizenship.

Those who organized the motorcade and assembly estimated the crowd at 2,000 and 5,000, most of them OFWs. They also estimated 300 to 700 vehicles.

Of the 29,700 work and entry permits that the CNMI issued in 2008 to foreign workers, 18,500 went to OFWs. - RJAB Jr., GMANews.TV

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