IN LIGHT OF CW CRISIS

Torres renews call for 902 talks

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres drew the attention of U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday to the cut-back in business activity the CNMI has suffered after the federal government’s delay in approving more than 2,000 contract worker renewals as of Jan. 1, the beginning of the new year.

“The timely processing of the CW workers requires immediate attention or our businesses will continue to suffer,” Torres said in a letter to Obama yesterday.

Torres wrote to Obama to re-assert the official action of the late governor Eloy S. Inos last October, when the latter called for official consultation with the White House to discuss the impending phase out of contract worker program in 2019 and the U.S. military’s desire “to unilaterally alter” previously agreed upon land leases to conduct live-fire training and bombing activity in the CNMI.

The Torres administration believes the two issues are critically important matters affecting the relationship between the United States and CNMI and are “ripe for consultation.”

“We recognize through informal communication that the Section 902 process is under consideration by the White House (or, in preliminary stages of planning),” Torres said in his letter to Obama. “However, we are unaware of any official response and, as the New Year begins, I respectfully ask if there is any information you can share for our planning purposes or anything that can be done to immediately help our private sector business operators.”

The delay in contract worker renewals has caused some businesses in the CNMI to close shop indefinitely heading into the new year, as many worker permits expired on New Year’s Eve. Over 2,000 worker applications have been delayed—an estimated 20 percent of the contract worker workforce. There are over 10,000 contract workers in the CNMI, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2013.

Truong’s, a popular Vietnamese restaurant, has closed its doors, among others, and one of the island’s major wholesale distributors, Luen Fung Enterprises, has reportedly shutdown operations until such time that their employees get their CW renewals.

Torres officials are also considering sending another letter to the White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs on the “intentional or unintentional” delay of worker permits processed by USCIS, Saipan Tribune learned yesterday.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan earlier called the delay on the part of USCIS as “unacceptable.”

Sablan will be carrying the 902 letter to the White House when he leaves the island this Thursday, administration officials said yesterday.

Military

In his letter, Torres noted the U.S. Department of Defense’s intent to acquire new properties in the Northern Mariana Islands.

“We now understand that Department of Defense agencies plan to restart their work next month to alter agreed-to uses of land already under federal lease or acquire additional real property interest in the CNMI,” Torres said.

The 902 consultation is appropriate under the present circumstances as the proposed military activities—to conduct live-fire trainings and bombings on Tinian and Pagan, and acquire the lease to the whole island of Pagan for these purposes—will—if carried out as planned—“radically impact the fragile marine and terrestrial ecosystem and the quality of life for the citizens and residents living here,” Inos wrote in his letter to Obama last October.

“…The acquisition and use of land in the Northern Mariana Islands by the military was the most important and contentious issue negotiated by F. Haydn Williams and the members of the Marianas Future Political Status Commission,” Inos said. “The Department of Defense’s present day intentions will, in effect, amend the Covenant and other technical documents. This is a serious issue ripe for consultation.”

In executing the Covenant, the United States pledged to “continue to recognize and respect the scarcity and special importance of land in the Northern Mariana Islands.” Among other things, the Covenant provides that the United States will minimize its acquisition of land within the Commonwealth and will refrain from any involuntary acquisition unless absolutely necessary.

“The portion of the CJMT proposed for Pagan appears to violate each of these principles,” Dentons, the CNMI government’s consultants on the live-fire plans, said in October. “It would involve a substantial acquisition of land against the will of the people; and it would authorize the acquisition of an interest in the entire island of Pagan, even though only a portion would be used.”

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Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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