Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CNMI federalization transition plan issued

CNMI federalization transition plan issued

Administration urges DHS to waive travel restrictions

By Haidee V. Eugenio
Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Fitial administration has issued a 46-page CNMI protocol addressing key concerns related to the transition to federal immigration on Nov. 28, including the loss of government jobs, foreign labor, and adjudication of labor cases.

Titled “The Commonwealth's Protocol for Implementation of Public Law 110-229,” the document prepares the CNMI for federalization which will immediately affect displaced government employees and foreigners who currently hold CNMI-granted status.

Press secretary Charles Reyes, when asked for comment yesterday, said the governor has “approved such a plan to address important transition issues.”

By Nov. 28, for example, CNMI immigration employees will be out of job given that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection has not hired a single U.S. citizen from the CNMI in the 18 months since the federalization law was signed.

Attorney General Ed Buckingham and Howard P. Willens, special counsel to the governor, with instructions from Fitial, undertook the preparation for the protocol.

“The current version of the protocol is intended to collect our policies for reference by all concerned in both the public and private sectors in the Commonwealth and by the responsible federal agencies,” said Willens in a Sept. 15 memorandum for Fitial.

The protocol aims to implement the transition smoothly with as little disruption and uncertainty as possible, keep families together and treat affected persons fairly, and minimize adverse consequences to the recovery of the CNMI economy.

It said the provisions of P.L. 110-229 are imprecise as to the way that the U.S. authorities are to interact with the CNMI authorities and DHS has not yet shared its views on most of the issues discussed in the protocol.

The protocol listed at least 28 CNMI laws about which pre-emption questions could be raised, and these include the organization of the Executive Branch, the Commonwealth Entry and Deportation Act, the Nonresident Worker's Act, the Commonwealth Employment Act of 2007, Excise tax and user fees, and the Commonwealth Minimum Wage and Hour Act.

Outsourcing of services

The Fitial administration has been preparing for discussion with CBP in Washington, D.C. on a proposal to outsource certain port of entry jobs to a private CNMI contractor.

The private contractor would employ current CNMI Division of Immigration employees and provide these employees to supplement CBP personnel assigned to the Commonwealth.

“The contractor personnel would work under the supervision of CBP onsite supervisors,” the protocol said.

Under P.L. 110-229, DHS will control and operate six ports of entry in the CNMI.

In the short term following the Nov. 28 transition, the CNMI intended to use the current Department of Labor workforce in dealing with the problems of employing U.S. citizens to the maximum extent possible.

Travel restrictions

The protocol also urges DHS to waive travel restrictions for foreign workers, foreign investors, and foreign students.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials have announced that nonresidents will be prevented from returning to the CNMI if they lave the islands for medical, family, businesses or other reasons.

“That is unnecessary, highly damaging to the Commonwealth and its citizens, and unacceptable from the Commonwealth's point of view. DHS has authority to waive these restrictions and should do so,” the protocol said.

It added that anyone who holds a CNMI-issued permit or a federally-issued CNMI-only permit is not a threat to U.S. national security and should be allowed to continue employment if they leave the CNMI and return during the term of the permit.

The proposed E-2 CNMI investor status rule, published last week, provides the same travel restrictions to foreign investors.

Under the proposed regulations, the foreign investor must apply for a visa at a consulate or embassy in his home country and obtain a U.S. visa issued by the Department of State to be able to re-enter the CNMI.

PL 110-229 provides specifically that lawful permits issued to persons who wish to remain in the CNMI after Nov. 28, 2009 will be respected for the duration of the permit but not to exceed two years.


Local government agencies will continue to issue permits and extension until Nov. 27, 2009 for CNMI immigration categories, from 240A to 240Y, and other categories made necessary by the transition to federal immigration law.

For example, the Department of Commerce and the Division of Immigration will continue to issue regular-term business entry permits and extensions in the normal course until Nov. 27, 2009.

CNMI Immigration will issue two-year permits as of Nov. 27, 2009 to every alien who is a government employee and for whom the Office of Personnel Management certified a need for a two-year permit.

The local Immigration will also continue to issue visitor entry permits and extension in the normal course until Nov. 27, 2009.

The government intends to issue public notices and awareness campaign to disseminate information contained in the protocol.

Lynn Knight, a former chair of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands (HANMI), said the CNMI's protocol document is a “phenomenal undertaking on this incredibly complex issue.”

“Unfortunately, so many gray areas remain even at this late date. This is a pro-active effort to establish what should happen next on the working relationships and necessary details of the immigration takeover. I want to congratulate all those who contributed to the document and I certainly hope the federal officials who will have some role in this going forward will take the protocol very seriously,” said Knight, who used to be a communications liaison on immigration issues. She now lives in the Washington, D.C. area.

The Fitial administration first reported the creation of a public-private task force to ensure operational concerns are addressed related to the federalization transition, right after Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan changed his position by now supporting a delay in federalization.

Sablan said DHS is not ready to implement the law by Nov. 28, but DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said the department is prepared to control CNMI borders by the date set by law.

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