Thursday, September 06, 2007

More on CNMI Federalization

Homeland Security involved in redrafting of federalization bill
By Gemma Q. Casas
Variety News Staff
September 6, 2007

THE August deadline for the revised version of S. 1634, the bill that will federalize the local immigration system, has been pushed back after the U.S. Interior Department asked the help of the U.S. Department of Security in drafting a new measure.

David Cohen, Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for insular affairs, hopes to submit the new draft of S. 1634 soon.

“We are still working with the Department of Homeland Security to finish up the draft,” said Cohen in an e-mail interview. “We hope to be able to submit it soon.”
Homeland Security will be among the five federal agencies to oversee the transition to a federal immigration system in the CNMI.

The department sent Philip B. Busch, one of its legal counsels, to Saipan to observe the Aug. 15 field hearing conducted by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs on H.R. 3079, the Northern Mariana Islands Immigration Security and Labor Act, which is similar to S.1634 but includes a provision for a CNMI nonvoting congressional delegate.

Busch is with the Office of the Chief Counsel of the department’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Cohen said once his office submits the second draft, the next step will be up to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“Their next procedural step will be to report the bill out of the Senate committee and a similar process will be going on in the House,” he said.

S. 1634 and H.R. 3079 both propose that foreign workers in the Northern Marianas who have been legally employed for at least five years be given the opportunity to get nonimmigrant visas which will entitle them to freely travel, work and study anywhere in the United States and its possessions.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial is strongly opposed to both bills citing their “negative economic impact.”


Cohen: NMI situation has changed
By Haidee V. Eugenio
Variety Assistant Editor
Sept 5, 2007

DEPUTY Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs David Cohen says the federal government’s point back in 2004 was that it would not be willing to grant immigration status to nonresident workers “unless the entire CNMI immigration system were to be federalized” but, he said, the “situation has changed now.”

Cohen was responding to a statement from Covenant Party chairman Alvaro Santos who said “it is shameful and disgraceful for Cohen to be representing himself as the ‘savior’ of nonresident workers when you consider the fact that David Cohen strongly opposed the granting of permanent residency status to nonresident workers only a few years ago.”

Among the changes Cohen cited that were beyond the CNMI’s control were the U.S. Congress’ active consideration of federalizing CNMI immigration which is indeed supported by the Bush administration, and the changes in world trade that have contributed to sharp declines in CNMI revenue, depriving it of the resources it needs to properly administer its responsibilities.

“Now that we’re seriously considering immigration federalization, we have an opportunity to examine the situation of the long-term contract workers that have been so essential in building the CNMI economy,” he said. “We have the opportunity and the obligation to try to ensure that everyone — the indigenous community, the contract workers, the business community and others — is treated fairly.”

On Dec. 16, 2004, Cohen was quoted as saying that “there is virtually no hope of the Dekada movement succeeding in getting U.S. permanent residence for its members on the basis of their presence in the CNMI.”

Dekada is seeking permanent residence status for over 3,000 of its nonresident members who have been lawfully working in the CNMI for at least five years.

The movement, formed in September 2004, consists mostly of Filipinos, Koreans, Chinese, Nepalese, Bangladeshis, Thais and Burmese.

In a statement yesterday, Cohen said reasonable people can disagree about what is fair, and that’s why a healthy, respectful debate is essential at this time.

The Covenant Party chairman said he is “deeply offended” by and resents Cohen’s political behavior and unprecedented intrusion into the CNMI’s self-government and local politics.

“The way David Cohen has been carrying on when he visits the Commonwealth, you would think that the temporary alien contract workers negotiated and approved our Covenant agreement with the United States for their benefit, not the indigenous population. This was never the intention of our founding fathers or the great Americans who supported our Covenant agreement with the United States,” said Santos.

Cohen, for his part, said, “Our point back in 2004 was that the federal government would not be willing to grant status to contract workers unless the entire CNMI immigration system were to be federalized. The basic bargain was that the CNMI’s continued control over its own immigration was conditioned upon the federal government not having to bear the burden of immigration decisions made by the local CNMI government.”

He said if the federal government was going to have obligations to those who were admitted to the CNMI, then the federal government would insist upon controlling who is admitted to the CNMI.

“Our point back then was that granting status to the contract workers would bring about federalization. Not even the strongest proponents of federalization in Congress were pushing federalization with any sense of urgency at that time, perhaps because this was before changes in world trade rules helped to plunge the CNMI into the crisis that exists today,” he said.

According to Cohen, this was why they were concerned, back in 2004, about the possibility that contract workers would come to the CNMI, or attempt to extend their stay, on the belief that they would get green cards.

“We were concerned that their hopes would make them exploitable, and that the CNMI would become a magnet for those seeking green cards,” he said.

Cohen said he doesn’t blame people for having anxiety at this time, “because the CNMI is likely to change significantly, one way or another, in the foreseeable future.”

“We don’t yet fully know what that change will look like, and that naturally causes anxiety. Every segment of the community is experiencing anxiety — the Chamorros, the Carolinians, the guest workers, citizens of the freely associated states, business owners and everyone else,” he said.

But according to Cohen, much of this anxiety has nothing to do with the federalization debate.

He said people are worried about their ability to support their families, to pay their utility bills and to rely upon the most basic of public services, and these worries were in full swing long before immigration federalization legislation was introduced.

“We have to guard against this anxiety spilling over into anger that is misdirected at fellow members of the community, especially the most vulnerable members. I’ve said before that everyone in the CNMI is in the same boat, and that the community will sink or swim together,” Cohen said.

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