“Ten years working in Congress have taught me you never give up,” said Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan today. “Legislative proposals that are unacceptable now can become winners over time.
“A defeatist attitude in Congress will not get you anywhere. There are too many days when you face disappointment and discouragement. To be successful you have to keep trying and never give up. It is never too late.”
A good example of how you have to keep working, the Congressman said, is his new bill, the NMI Workforce Stabilization Act. The bill gives permanent status to long-term workers and investors in the Marianas.
“I could wait until January and the next Congress to introduce the Stabilization Act,” Sablan said. “But I want to take advantage of the new, statutory definition of ‘long-term worker’ that I included in the U.S. Workforce Act, PL 115-218.
“So, 36 hours after the President signed the new law with the new definition, I introduced a bill that uses that definition to give long-term workers permanent status.
“And I am collecting cosponsors, so the bill has momentum when Congress convenes in January—especially if we have a Democratic majority.”
Among Sablan’s twenty cosponsors are Representatives Raul Grijalva and Zoe Lofgren. Grijalva will chair the Natural Resources Committee and Lofgren will chair the Immigration Subcommittee, if Democrats take over. Their committees will have jurisdiction over Sablan’s bill.
Republicans have failed repeatedly in this Congress to deal with immigration issues. Despite that, Sablan was able to get his U.S. Workforce Act passed by building a bipartisan consensus for the bill. Immigration reform is expected to be a priority for Democrats in 2019.
“I am always looking forward,” Sablan said. “We have a brand-new opportunity to help long-term workers and investors and to add another layer of stability to our economy. I am going to use that new opportunity.
“And I want to let the people of the Marianas—the people I work for—know exactly what the plan is, my agenda for the 116th Congress.”
“To be successful, never give up”
Congressman Sablan has a long history of working to get permanent status for people who were overlooked when federal immigration law was first applied to the Marianas.
“In 2011, when I first introduced status legislation, the Fitial administration testified against it. And the CNMI Senate only wanted nonresident workers to get the status of citizens of the Freely Associated States,” Kilili recalls.
“More recently, the CNMI flipped and the CNMI 902 team recommended U.S. lawful permanent residence status for long-term workers. So, I introduced H.R. 5888, with the Governor’s agreement, backing up his new position and using the same status language that he opposed, as a Senator, back in 2011.
Federal 902 negotiators agreed in principle with the Governor that long-term workers should have a path to U.S. citizenship. But they “could have technical and/or substantive concerns with the details of any proposal,” according to the 902 report. And, President Obama’s representatives said, “eligibility criteria that depend on prior CNMI immigration statuses are particularly difficult to implement because access to comprehensive records is not guaranteed.”
To get around those problems identified in the 902 report, Congressman Sablan included language in the U.S. Workforce Act that defined “long-term worker” as someone admitted as a CW worker in fiscal years 2015 through and including 2018.
“By using my definition, which is now part of federal law and which is based on a status that is granted by the federal government itself, the Stabilization Act answers the federal concerns in the 902 report,” Sablan said.
“It is a little complicated, but getting laws enacted in Congress is complicated. And takes persistence. You cannot give up.”
In his new Stabilization Act, Congressman Sablan also included permanent status for foreign investors originally admitted under CNMI immigration law. The 902 team made no recommendation about those investors.
“We may add additional groups going forward,” Sablan said. “In Congress you legislate and, when you legislate, you negotiate. So, we may be able to broaden the scope of the Stabilization Act. Or we may put all of these proposals into a comprehensive immigration bill, which Democrats are readying for the 116th Congress.
Sablan has asked Governor Torres to support his bill, but the Governor has not yet responded officially.