Monday, October 12, 2009

NMI to dismantle immigration system

NMI to dismantle immigration system

Monday, 12 October 2009 00:00 By Gemma Q. Casas - Variety News Staff
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THE local Division of Immigration will end its operations once U.S. immigration laws are extended to the islands on Nov. 28.

An undetermined number of local immigration and labor employees will be displaced in the process.

Those working for the local customs and quarantine, however, are spared because the federalization statute, under U.S. P.L. 110-229 or the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, did not federalize customs or quarantine.

“The immigration laws with respect to entry and removal now enforced by the employees of the CNMI Immigration Division will be preempted by federal law on Nov. 28. Thereafter, the commonwealth will dismantle its Immigration Division,” states the 47-page Commonwealth’s Protocol for the Implementation of P.L. 110-229 prepared by the governor’s special legal counsel, Howard P. Willens, and the Office of the Attorney General.

The protocol will be observed for 90 days to ensure the smooth transition to federal immigration law.

Adjustments, however, will be made if the governor wins the lawsuit he filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the labor related provisions of U.S.P.L. 110-229.

Although there was a policy statement under such law that local immigration employees should be absorbed and considered for vacancies under the federally administered CNMI immigration system, many anticipate they will lose their jobs.

The Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection have not hired a single U.S. citizen from the local population in the CNMI in the 18 months since the enactment of the law, Willens stated in the protocol.

“It has not relaxed its age standard in order to accommodate experienced commonwealth immigration employees over the age of 37; and it has used standardized tests to measure the value that a prospective employee from the CNMI Immigration Division might bring to the performance of the functions performed by Customs and Border Protection at the ports of entry regardless of the practical on-the-job experience of that employee,” Willens added.

“These two requirements have effectively excluded Immigration Division employees from employment with CBP. This leaves the commonwealth with the entire burden of assisting these immigration employees in seeking new employment,” he said.

The CNMI Legislature has passed legislation giving preference for the would-be displaced local immigration employees to fill in current vacancies in the local government.

The Office of the Personnel Management was also directed to keep a list and e-mail addresses of those who may need employment assistance.

Willens said U.S. P.L. 110-229 states that technical assistance will be provided to the commonwealth, but there are no funds for this mandate and the U.S. Department of the Interior has very limited technical assistance funding available.

He said the CNMI Department of Labor is planning to submit an application from its U.S. counterpart to provide each local immigration employee who desires retraining with two years of financial support plus training costs.

Protection for local labor employees is also being sought.

“The commonwealth will make all possible efforts to ensure that current Labor Department employees will not be displaced. Current employees will be retrained to the extent necessary,” said Willens.

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