Sunday, January 11, 2009

Fitial: Federalization law is illegal

MONDAY, 12 JANUARY 2009 00:00

The Fitial administration told the federal court in Washington, D.C. the federalization law is illegal because it breaches the commonwealth’s Covenant with the U.S. regarding the islands’ right to self-government.

The U.S Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss the islands’ lawsuit against the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Labor should be denied, the governor’s lawyers stated.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Paul Friedman is hearing the case.

In related news, Variety learned that Homeland Security and Immigration officials from California and Washington, D.C. are arriving this week on Saipan for another fact-finding mission.

The group will hold closed-door talks with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, other administration officials, lawmakers, the business community and other members of the community.

Last month, U.S. DOJ attorneys led by Theodore Atkinsons asked the federal court to dismiss the CNMI’s lawsuit because it lacks standing as the case was not brought by the commonwealth’s attorney general.

They also argued that under the Covenant, the U.S. Congress can extend federal immigration law to the islands and that the CNMI’s economic disaster scenario is hypothetical and speculative.

Howard P. Willens, the governor’s special legal counsel, and David W. DeBruin, William M. Hohengarten and Sharmila Sohoni of the Jenner & Block law firm, said the U.S. DOJ attorneys have “mischaracterized the commonwealth’s claims.”

They said the lawsuit “alleges specific violations of the [Covenant] between the commonwealth and the united states — claims based essentially on breach of contract, for which the harm is (and need only be) a violation of established contractual rights.”

According to the CNMI attorneys’ 30-page reply, the Covenant “guarantees the Northern Marianas the right to local self-government and control over internal affairs. This is a critical right for a small, isolated island community. In multiple ways, however, the act violates that established right, and its implementation should be enjoined.”

They said a preliminary injunction at the most would just delay the implementation of the federalization law, as embodied in U.S P.L. 110-229 or the U.S. Consolidated and Natural Resources Act, to Dec. 1, 2009.

During this period, they said the CNMI would be able to negotiate with federal authorities on how to administer its foreign worker program, which administration officials fear would end by 2014.

The federalization law, the CNMI lawyers said, “ultimately requires that all foreign workers lawfully admitted to the commonwealth must be removed unless they qualify for a federal visa — and most indisputably cannot — meaning that the act compels the removal of two-thirds of the private sector workforce and one-third of the population of the CNMI. The act strips critical revenues from the CNMI. In each of these respects, the commonwealth contends that the act violates enforceable promises made by the United States in the Covenant as a matter of law.”

The CNMI attorneys argued that the economic impact of the federalization law is imminent once it takes effect this June 1.

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