Administration on federalization: ‘It’s up to the US Congress’
By Gemma Q. Casas
Variety New Staff
June 19, 2007
THE administration was surprised when Sen. Daniel Akaka introduced the CNMI federalization bill in the U.S. Senate and now concedes that the fate of local immigration control will be decided by the U.S. Congress, according to Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial traveled to Hawaii last month to meet with Akaka, D-Ha., and urged him to take the CNMI’s side on the federalization issue.
But on Friday, Akaka and other senators introduced S. 1634 or the Northern Mariana Islands Covenant Implementation Act, which will extend the federal immigration law to the islands.
“I guess it’s surprising,” said Reyes when asked for the administration’s comment.
“We’ve called for objective studies before major drastic actions are taken that would affect the CNMI economy. Unfortunately, our calls for caution have not been heard. There seems to be a strong determination in the new Congress to address the CNMI…minimum wage and immigration in a rapid fashion,” he added. “Ultimately, it’s not really in our control. It’s up to the U.S. Congress.”
Reyes said the administration will continue to lobby against immigration federalization.
The governor’s special legal counsel, Howard P. Willens, declined to comment on S. 1634, saying he had not seen a copy of the bill.
He said it may be the same 14-page draft bill that U.S. Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs David Cohen drafted upon the request of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
In a separate interview, Speaker Oscar M. Babauta, Covenant-Saipan, said unlike the administration, he is not totally opposed to federalizing local immigration.
“I’m not totally opposed to it. I just hope that whatever is the end result with respect to the CNMI’s immigration system, they would consider the islands’ economy by inserting certain special provisions,” he said.
He said the CNMI should be allowed to continue hiring foreign workers and welcome tourists from China and Russia.
“We don’t want a total phase-out of foreign workers. We want to make sure that employers can still avail of skilled labor workers. We want to hire more locals, but there aren’t enough available here,” said Babauta.
As for the bill’s provision that would grant non-immigrant status to long-time foreign workers, Babauta said: “Since the CNMI does not take part in granting citizenship to non-indigenous people, I’ll leave that up to the U.S. Congress.”