US Senate to pass NMI federalization bill next month
By Zaldy Dandan
THE U.S. House bill that will federalize local immigration is expected to be passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate in the first week of February and eventually signed by President Bush, according to the CNMI’s resident representative to Washington, D.C.
Pete A. Tenorio, in an e-mail interview, said the House bill, H.R. 3079, has been included in S. 2483, a combination of 60 bills already passed by the House.
“S. 2483 has been cleared for unanimous consent in the Senate,” Tenorio said. “However the leadership has agreed to allow five amendments from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Ok, none of which are related to H.R. 3079, thus his amendments will have no bearing on H.R. 3079.”
According to Tenorio, “once the Senate returns to work on the 22nd of January, it will be first taking up S. 2248, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It is anticipated that the bills…cleared for unanimous consent, which includes S. 2483, will then be taken up and voted on in the first week of February. If any of the Coburn’s amendment passed, then S. 2483 will be referred to the House for concurrence. And when both houses agree to any Senate amendments, it will then go to the president for his action. We anticipate that the president will sign the bill into law.”
The U.S. House federalization bill no longer includes the controversial provision granting non-immigrant status to qualified CNMI guest workers who have legally worked here for at least five years. But the measure will create a nonvoting congressional delegate seat for the CNMI.
Asked to comment about Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s statement that the CNMI opposes federalization of local immigration, Tenorio said the administration’s claim is “difficult to validate.”
But, he added, “based on my own observations, after talking to the majority members of our Legislature and so many of our people about the issue, it is my impression that the governor’s claim is not supported by evidence of a popular support of the general public of his view. Surely there are vocal members of our business community that oppose it, and certainly many of his political supporters also support him for obvious reasons. But an outright claim that the majority of our people oppose it borders on unreasonableness and hearsay.”
Tenorio said “the debate of whether or not the people of the CNMI support or oppose immigration federalization has been a moot issue since 1975 when our people voted with an overwhelming 78.8 percent to endorse the Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States. Simply stated, Section 503(a) of the Covenant is clear and unambiguous about the right of Congress to exercise its right, a right that our people voluntarily granted as part of our Covenant agreement. And we should honor that agreement for it is the right thing to do.”
Tenorio believes that “immigration is a federal responsibility and having it taken over by the federal government will not destroy our economy as some misguided people seem to believe. It is too late to re-invent the Covenant as some people want to dream about. As a former Covenant negotiator, I know it to be an excellent document that does not need re-inventing. Reneging on our Covenant agreement will only result in a progressive deterioration of our political relationship with the federal government and Congress. What our minority government should have done is work with Congress to develop a unique immigration framework which accommodates most, if not all, of the policies on immigration and labor that we presently have, instead of being arrogant and confrontational.”
Tenorio said he “continues to believe in a middle ground approach to the issue of immigration federalization as I sincerely believe that it is the only rational way to successfully incorporate special provisions unique to the CNMI which otherwise will not be incorporated if a purely federal framework is developed in the end without our participation.”