Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sablan Introduces Bill To Delay Start of Federal Immigration Control in CNMI Until December 1, 2010

Sablan Introduces Bill To Delay Start of Federal Immigration Control in CNMI Until December 1, 2010

Guam - U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan has introduced legislation that delays the start of federal immigration control in the Northern Mariana Islands until December 1, 2010.

“I have made the decision to seek this delay only after much deliberation,” said Sablan. “I firmly believe that federal control of the borders will reduce the scams and abuses that have been a hallmark of local immigration control.

“And I believe that just as political union with the United States was a wise decision and one that benefits the Northern Mariana Islands every single day, so too will it benefit us to be part of the U.S. immigration system.

“But the simple truth is that the Department of Homeland Security, which has had almost a year and a half to prepare, is not ready to implement U.S. Public Law 110-229 on November 28.

“I know that for many people in Washington and in the Commonwealth, who have been pushing for U.S. control of immigration, my bill will seem like backsliding. And I certainly would have preferred not to have to take this action. But I also have to acknowledge the reality of the situation.

“Homeland Security has not finalized arrangements for space at the ports of entry that it must control. No construction of facilities at the ports has begun. None of the sophisticated communications and data entry equipment and supporting infrastructure needed have been installed. Not a single Customs and Border Patrol employee is in place in the Marianas to manage the start-up, which is scheduled to occur in just 65 days.

“Even the Department of Homeland Security itself has now admitted in written reply to Congress that the Department will not be fully operational in the Marianas until 2011.

“That’s not good enough. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands – and the people of all the United States – deserve and expect all U.S. borders to be fully operational all the time.”

Sablan’s bill does not just delay the start of federal control for a year. The bill also responds to agency foot-dragging by requiring reports to Congress every 30 days on actions being taken to be fully prepared to man the borders on December 1, 2010.

“I want to make clear that my bill is not delay for the sake of delay. And I certainly don’t want to find us back in this same predicament a year from now with an impending start up date and an agency that isn’t prepared.

“My bill requires DHS to provide Congress with detailed budgets for the next two years to show how the transition will be paid for. The Department will be required to explain what equipment, software, and personnel needs it has and how it plans to get that infrastructure in place.”

The measure also addresses the issue of the visa waiver program that currently allows Russians and Chinese tourists to easily enter the Commonwealth.

“Although the CNMI visa waiver program would continue as is for another year under my bill, I also want Homeland Security to report to Congress on what will happen after the new start date of December 2010. If there are additional security measures needed to allow Russians and Chinese to enter, what are those measures? DHS has never told us. And, if Russian and Chinese are still excluded from a visa waiver program after December 2010, then I want DHS to explain how these countries can be included at a later date.

“I also want DHS to explain why the system we have now, which requires a bond from tourist agencies sending Russians and Chinese here and which has operated almost completely trouble free, can’t be the system that DHS uses to handle these tourists.”

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