Friday, September 19, 2008

Federalization Lawsuit an Uphill Battle

Lawsuit will be an 'uphill battle'
Fitial rep barred from DHS meeting in DC
By Agnes E. Donato

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial yesterday acknowledged the difficulty of overturning the law that will impose federal immigration rules on the Commonwealth next year.

“I know it's an uphill battle,” said Fitial, who is suing the U.S. government to stop the new immigration law from being implemented. But he also said, “I've always believed in doing the right thing. This is the right thing for our people.”

Fitial reiterated that by ignoring the objections he had raised since the law was in the drafting stage, the U.S. Congress left him no choice but to turn to the court. Negotiation, particularly in the case of the labor provisions at the center of his lawsuit, is no longer an option, he said.

Yet he protested the decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to bar local businesswoman Marian Aldan-Pierce from its meeting with the Marianas Integrated Immigration Task Force earlier this week in Washington, D.C.

According to reports, the task force shortly before the meeting got word that the DHS did not want any CNMI representative in the meeting because the DHS had not had a chance to review the then-just-filed lawsuit.

“My own representative was excluded from the meeting. And yet, [U.S. Virgin Islands Rep. Donna] Christensen is coming out and saying she wants the federal agencies working closely with the CNMI leaders? What kind of a statement is that?” asked Fitial.

Christensen, chairwoman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs and sponsor of the CNMI immigration measure, has said she will continue to encourage the DHS and relevant federal agencies to consult the CNMI leaders as they move toward implementing the new law. She has also said lawsuit might put at risk the working relationship with the U.S. and CNMI government.

But Fitial said, “We're not risking anything [by filing this lawsuit]. To not do anything is to risk our livelihood.”

The governor said he hopes the CNMI Legislature will back him and provide the money for the suit. The U.S.-based Jenner & Block law firm is representing the CNMI government for a fee of $50,000 a month for a period of eight months. Top lawmakers have come out in public saying they oppose the lawsuit for two main reasons: they prefer to negotiate with the U.S. government, and the Commonwealth cannot afford a court battle against the deep-pocketed U.S. government.

“Whenever I hear people talk about the cost of this lawsuit, it makes me sad. They worry about $400,000. [If federalization happens] they will be worrying about their lives,” said Fitial.

He also ruled out a suggestion from some lawmakers to have the CNMI Attorney General's Office represent the CNMI government in the suit. He said the AGO does not have the expertise in U.S. constitutional matters that a firm like Jenner & Block possesses.

“We're looking for the best representation. I'm not saying that our Attorney General is not capable. But we're looking for experts,” the governor said. He added that his special legal counsel, Howard Willens, is working with Jenner & Block on the lawsuit.

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