By JUDE O. MARFIL-SCHWALBACH
Special to the Saipan Tribune
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Making up for his absence here, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial will meet with a handful of officials before attending the hearing on the CNMI federalized immigration bill in the Senate next week.
Fitial will see Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), chairman of the US Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources as well as U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Interior deputy assistant secretary David B. Cohen.
"I understand the Governor will be coming. He has scheduled a meeting with Sen. Bingaman on the 17th," said Allen P. Stayman, the committee’s senior staff member.
Cohen said OIA has received request of Fitial to meet Kempthorne at his office here.
"I of course approved it because of the importance of the issues facing the Commonwealth at this time," said Cohen. "The agenda of the meeting will be to allow the Governor to raise any issue that he would like to discuss."
Cohen said is not sure whether CNMI Finance Secretary Eloy Inos and Attorney General Matthew T. Gregory will accompany Fitial in his visit to OIA. "But anyone on his staff would certainly be welcome."
It is still unknown whether Fitial will meet with Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), who on June 15, 2007 introduced S. 1634: "A Bill To Further the Act Approving the Covenant to Establish CNMI in Political Union with the US," more popularly known as CNMI federalized immigration bill.
"To my knowledge, no such meeting has been scheduled as of now," said Akaka’s press officer Jesse Broder Van Dyke.
Fitial is set to appear before the Senate committee’s hearing on July 19, 2007 at 9:30am at the Senate Dirksen Building Room 366 (11:30pm, July 19, Saipan time).
The hearing was originally scheduled on June 28, 2007. It was deferred to accommodate Fitial and Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Juan T. Guerrero, who were both opposed to federalize immigration in the Marianas.
"It was at Gov. Fitial’s request that the hearing was postponed. So I hope he will show up. Given the importance of this legislation to the CNMI, his input is very important," said Stayman.
CNMI Resident Representative Pete A. Tenorio, who insists on "cooperating" with federal government and U.S. Congress’ plan to overhaul the CNMI’s immigration system, was also invited to testify.
Cohen will attend on behalf Kempthorne.
Malinda Matson, Tenorio’s chief of staff, said it is still unsure whether Fitial will make a courtesy visit to the CNMI Resident Representative’s office. She said government-hired Washington lobby firm Oldaker, Biden & Belair, LLP is in-charge of arranging appointments on behalf of the governor.
There has been simmering tension between Fitial and Tenorio, who many suspect will run for governor in 2009, over the issue of extending federal laws to the Marianas.
Fitial’s trip to D.C. will be a first since he became governor in January 2006. So far, his trips were limited to Hawaii, where he met with Akaka; California, where he underwent surgery last year; and other Asian countries to court investors such as Japan, China, Korea and the Philippines.
S. 1634 seeks to grant alien workers who have been in the CNMI for at least five years with nonimmigrant visa, which will allow them to work and live in the U.S. mainland.
For alien workers who do not meet the five-year requirement, they can still work in the CNMI under either the CNMI-only Guest Worker Program or the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions for foreign workers.
Under the CNMI-only Guest Worker Program, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will determine the number, terms and conditions of permits to be issued to workers during the transition period, which is set to end on Dec. 31, 2017.
By 2018, it is envisioned that no CNMI-only work visas will be issued unless DHS decides to grant a five-year extension of the transition period.
Co-sponsoring the bill were senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), whose father, then senator Frank H. Murkowski authored S. 507, which was an earlier version of S. 1634.