All set for federal takeover
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 00:00 By Gemma Q. Casas - Reporter
THE U.S. Department of Homeland Security will take control of the islands’ immigration system as scheduled on Saturday following federal Judge Paul Friedman’s decision to dismiss Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s lawsuit.
Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia placed the case under advisement last March 12, 2009.
The first complaint seeks a permanent injunction on labor-related provisions of the federalization law, or U.S. P.L. 110-229, on grounds that it infringes on the CNMI’s right to self-government under its Covenant with the United States. It was filed on Sept. 12, 2008.
In November of the same year, the governor, through the Jenner & Block law firm and his special legal counsel Howard P. Willens, amended the complaint and sought for a preliminary injunction citing constitutional violations as grounds.
The governor said federalization law is an economic disaster for the CNMI’s economy because it will reduce to zero the number of foreign workers on the islands by Dec. 31, 2014.
The U.S. Department of Justice asked the federal court to dismiss the case, saying the CNMI’s arguments are purely speculative and stressed that local immigration policy had opened up the islands to security risks, including from Russian Mafia and Chinese triads.
DOJ also noted that the Covenant allows the U.S. Congress to apply federal immigration law to the islands.
In his Nov. 23 two-page order dismissing the case, Friedman said the CNMI “failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted with respect to counts I and II of its amended complaint and that those claims therefore should be dismissed.”
The judge said the CNMI’s motion for a preliminary injunction is moot.
He said an opinion regarding the court’s reasoning for its order will follow.
The administration is paying Jenner & Block a retainer of $50,000 a month for its legal services, excluding out-of-pocket reimbursements.
Saipan Independent Rep. Tina Sablan, who forced the administration to release the billing records, said they had known that the lawsuit was unlikely to prevail.
“Even Howard Willens and Jenner & Block acknowledged months ago, before filing the lawsuit in the first place, that the CNMI was likely to lose. Judge Friedman’s dismissal should not come as a surprise to anyone, not even the administration,” she told the Variety in an e-mail.
The lawmaker hopes to get the remaining financial records further detailing how public funds were spent for the lawsuit.
The financial records she obtained were up to April of this year only.
“I hope that the financial records will be fully disclosed now that the lawsuit has been dismissed, and that the CNMI can finally move on toward mending relations with the federal government and adjusting to the fact that federal immigration law will apply here starting on Nov. 28,” she said.
“The CNMI has been fighting federalization for so long, and fighting so hard to maintain the status quo, that we have missed the opportunities to build a better, stronger, more self-reliant CNMI. Now is the time to open our eyes and wake up to the reality that times are changing. The old labor and immigration system is coming to an end. We have to adapt,” she added.
In a statement, Fitial said: “We had excellent representation from our lawyers in Washington, D.C. We respect Judge Friedman and appreciate the time and careful consideration he gave to this case. We look forward to examining his opinion before making any decisions about our future course of action on this matter.”
The judge, he added, is expected to separately rule this week on the CNMI’s third complaint, an emergency injunctive relief to stop the interim final regulations on transitional worker program on grounds that they failed to comply with the notice and comment provisions of the U.S. Administrative Procedures Act.
Fitial said Willens is “traveling to Washington this Sunday and will be consulting with our D.C. lawyers on Monday. After those discussions, I expect to receive a recommendation from counsel regarding both of Judge Friedman’s decisions.”
The ruling came almost a day after the governor won the runoff election.