U.S. House Committee Approves Measure To Federalize Marianas Immigration
By Frank S. Rosario on Saipan
Thursday: November 08, 2007
The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources today approved a bill that would federalize immigration of the Northern Marianas and also give the U.S. commonwealth a non-voting delegate seat in the House of Representatives. But it took out a controversial section that would give special immigration status to long-term foreign workers in the island group.
The bill will now goes to the full House for action. No date has been set for the House to consider the measure.
Northern Marianas Washington Representative Pete A. Tenorio praised the House committee action.
“I am extremely pleased with the successful approval by the full committee of not only the immigration federalization provisions, but also with the approval of the section calling for the establishment of a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, with election scheduled in November 2008,” Tenorio told Pacific Magazine.
But Northern Marianas Governor Benigno Fitial said he was disappointed that the committee acted hastily on what he said was faulty information.
”Even though the bill has been improved, I continue to oppose its enactment. It is not necessary. It will seriously injure our economy at a critical time in our history, and it is not based on accurate data. I can only hope that some members of Congress will withhold judgment on this legislation until they have an opportunity to consider the recommendations of GAO, the Department of Labor, and other economists currently evaluating the CNMI,” he said, referring to a Government Accountability Office study of the economic impact of federalization of the Northern Marianas’ labor and immigration.
The federalization bill is also strongly opposed by the Northern Marianas the Legislature and Saipan Chamber of Commerce. They say it would hinder economic recovery and create unnecessary bureaucracy.
The most controversial aspect of the federalization legislation is a provision that would grant U.S. non-immigrant status to some 8,000 non-resident workers who have been in the Northern Marianas for more than five years. Guam lawmakers oppose that section, saying it would result in influx of workers to that island in search of higher-paying jobs.
The House committee removed that provision from the legislation.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Insular Affairs David B. Cohen, who drafted the legislation at the request of the U.S. Congress, said he is disappointed by the removal of that that section.
“The administration has urged Congress to do right by the long-term guest workers and recognize how much they have contributed to the CNMI,” he said in a statement. “Their skills and hard work have certainly benefited the CNMI as they would benefit any community. Failing to economically empower the guest workers has destroyed private sector employment opportunities for an entire generation of Chamorros and Carolinians in the CNMI.”
Tenorio, for his part, said the bill does not close the door on possibly grandfathering guest workers in the future.
“There is simply insufficient relevant statistics at this point in time to justify action aimed at permanently granting unique and unprecedented legal residency status to long term presence of foreign nations who happen to be recruited as guest workers primarily,” he told Pacific Magazine.
Rep. Don Young, a ranking Republican member on the Natural Resources Committee, strongly supported the bill and thanked other committee members, including Chairman Nick J. Rahall and Delegate Donna Christensen (U.S. Virgin Islands), both authors of the bill, for their hard work. Christensen held public hearings on the measure in the CNMI and Guam in August of this year.
“This bill brings about a unified immigration, border control and national security policy to the Marianas region,” Young stated in a press release today. “I know some concerns remain, especially about the potential for excessive user fees to be charged on local businesses by the federal agencies implementing this bill. But I have been assured from members of the administration that this will not be the case and the costs imposed by this legislation will stay roughly at the current level imposed locally and no higher.”
Young said that while the controversial section to grandfather long-term guest workers was removed, the most important aspect of the legislation is U.S. national security. “Two congressional delegations have gone to the Marianas in the past six months. Those members and staff heard loud and clear from our armed forces personnel about the need to expand and protect existing and future forces deployed in both Guam and the CNMI,” Young said.
Cohen said he hopes the U.S. Senate, which is considering a similar bill, will continue to keep the plight of long-term workers in the CNMI, mostly from the Philippines, in mind when it considers the bill.
If the legislation passed without further amendments by both the House and Senate, and is then signed by President George W. Bush, the federal government would have a five-year grace period before taking over immigration of the Northern Marianas.