Cnmi's Former Stateless Issue: an Accident Waiting to Happen

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Since the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) was founded, countless people have left their homelands as alien laborers in pursuit of the American dream. Each laborer was allowed to settle in the CNMI to work and make a living. These people made the CNMI a diverse group of ethnicities and nationalities. The CNMI is the home of Chamorros, Carolinians, Pacific Islanders, Asians, and people from around the world, including the mainland United States, "statesiders."

At the end of World War II, the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI) became a Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) on July 18, 1947. The TTPI is a United Nations Trust Territory, administered by the United States under a Trusteeship Agreement with the United Nations Security Council (History and Politics). The NMI was considered to be a foreign country for nationality purposes, and the people were considered aliens under US law (Aguon).

Between January 9, 1978 and November 4, 1986, a binding agreement was created to establish a commonwealth status and political union with the United States of America and the Northern Mariana Islands (Acquisition). This agreement was called, the US-CNMI covenant. Since the NMI was part of the TTPI, the trusteeship agreement was not terminated until November 3, 1986, when the US-CNMI covenant was implemented, giving the NMI commonwealth status. Although the covenant granted US citizenship to the CNMI, it did not give US citizenship to all the people who lived in the CNMI at that time. The covenant only gave US citizenship to certain persons, specifically identified under Article III of the agreement.

Citizens of the TTPI period and anyone born in the CNMI after the covenant was implemented, regardless of their nationality, became US citizens. However, during 1978 and 1986 when the US-CNMI covenant was being written and signed, about 350 children were born in the CNMI of alien laborers and were not granted US citizenship. Article III, Section 303, of the US-CNMI Covenant states, "All persons born in the Commonwealth on or after the effective date of this section and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States will be citizens of the United States at birth (Attorney)." Therefore, the estimated 350 people are "stateless;" an individual that is not recognized to owe allegiance to the United States or any foreign country. Section 303 of Article III instigated the long and difficult struggles of the stateless issue in the CNMI.

According to an interview with Matthew Ooka and William Aguon, there is no such thing as stateless people in the CNMI. Most of these people are of Filipino and Korean descent, born in the CNMI and were not given the status of US citizenship. However, as a result, even though they lived their whole lives in the CNMI, they are treated as any other foreigner and have to enter the US as a tourist, contract laborer, or immigrant.

In the past, the CNMI government brought the stateless issue to the attention of the US Congress and the US Department of Justice (Maraya). Nonetheless, the efforts put into assisting the stateless individuals have failed. According to an article in Saipan Tribune News, the CNMI government does not have the right to grant US citizenship to these stateless individuals. Additionally, the island does not have a US Congress spokesperson to represent the CNMI (Maraya).

In early January 2004, Juan M. Babauta, Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, promised to lobby the US Congress to grant US citizenship to the estimated 350 stateless people. In February, Gov. Babauta wrote a letter seeking assistance from the US Congress Representative, Dan Burton, from Indiana regarding the issue of stateless individuals in the CNMI and the process of granting US citizenship (Dones). The governor explained the circumstances and hardships these people are affected with, which sets them back from higher educational opportunities, social benefits, and...
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