Sunday, September 06, 2009

Kilili writes 'open letter' to explain support of federalization delay

By Haidee V. Eugenio
Monday, September 07, 2009

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (D-MP) wrote an “open letter” to the people of the CNMI on Saturday to explain his support of a one-year delay in the implementation of Public Law 110-229, reversing his long-held view supporting federalization as set by law.

“This is a reversal of my view and I feel that I owe you an explanation,” he said.

Sablan reiterated that this change of position is only because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is not ready to implement the federalization law.

“I want to be very clear: I am not seeking delay for the sake of delay. I am not interested in simply moving back the goalposts. We have already had one six-month delay to give the Department time to prepare and the Department is still not prepared. Any new action by Congress will have to require that DHS do its job in a way that the Department cannot duck. And any new action by Congress must force the Department to act as quickly as possible, so that we can make the transition, erase the uncertainties, and get on with the work of building the Commonwealth,” he said.

Sablan's open letter came a few days after announcing his new position on federalization during the Saipan Chamber of Commerce's monthly general membership meeting at The Palms Resort in San Roque on Wednesday.

But in his open letter, Sablan mistook the Chamber of Commerce meeting for “Tuesday.” Chamber's monthly membership meeting is held every first Wednesday of the month.

P.L. 110-229 sets the new implementation date of federalization on Nov. 28, 2009, after the original date of June 1 was pushed back by 180 days, the maximum allowed by law, because DHS was not ready to implement it.

“I continue to believe that federal immigration control is in the long-term best interest of the people of our Commonwealth. Although a certain amount of readjustment could be expected with this transition, the public has a right to expect the responsible government agency to accomplish the job with the highest degree of professionalism and the minimum disruption to public services, to families and to businesses,” Sablan said.

“It is now my judgment that the Department of Homeland Security is not prepared to meet these standards and establish effective control of the borders on November 28,” he added.

Acting Gov. Eloy S. Inos and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce separately welcomed Sablan's support for a delay in the implementation of the federalization law.

The Fitial administration and the Chamber have been asking for further federalization delay, especially in light of the exclusion of Chinese and Russian tourists from the federal visa waiver program and DHS's failure to issue regulations on foreign investors and CNMI-only transitional worker program with only months before implementation date.

Sablan cited as principal reason for his judgment about DHS is that “the department has budgeted no money for the transition, despite having reported to Congress that $86 million will be necessary for this job.”

“This lack of funds may account for the lack of presence-no personnel and no equipment are in place-a scant 90 days before the date of transition,” he said.

The CNMI's first non-voting delegate to the U.S. Congress said that DHS also lacks the necessary regulations.

“DHS may publish regulations explaining how investors will be treated within 60 days of November 28, as the law requires; but DHS shows no sign of issuing regulations explaining the fate of transitional workers. And the regulations regarding the visa waiver program have not been finalized - or changed to allow Chinese and Russian tourists to continue to visit the Northern Mariana Islands as they now do,” he said.

Sablan believes the public needs an opportunity to consider how DHS intends to interpret the law and sufficient time to provide feedback to the agency, and the agency needs sufficient time to carefully consider and respond to that feedback.

He also said that DHS has yet to address many problems of transition associated with the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, and with non-U.S. citizens who are long-standing residents of the Commonwealth.

In his open letter and during his remarks at the Chamber meeting, Sablan said DHS has refused to answer any of the questions he has asked, as well as those asked by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, and U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources chair Sen. Jeff Bingaman and ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“I have concluded that the Department does not know.. So, I have decided to work for a delay in implementation of federal border control, even though I know this will be most difficult to accomplish,” Sablan added.

If and when federalization is not delayed anew, the administration said it has at least a special protocol working group to address possible contingencies for Nov. 28. The group will be meeting weekly to prepare for worst-case scenarios involving federalization.

A further delay in federalization would require a separate legislation to amend P.L. 110-229.

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