The final draft of the 902 report that was transmitted to congressional leaders presents the best interest of the CNMI on the issues of labor and the planned military activities in the Commonwealth, according to Senate President Arnold Palacios (R-Saipan).
The 902 report offers recommendations as to how the U.S. federal government can aid the CNMI’s steadily growing economy after federal immigration laws were also enforced in the Commonwealth since 2009.
Extending the CW1 program beyond 2019, providing permanent status to long-term guest workers, soliciting suggested regulatory changes to the CW program, using immigration policies to solve regional labor shortages, extending the eligibility for workforce development programs, beginning a cooperative relationship between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the CNMI, and recommending the creation of a CNMI-Department of Defense Coordinating Council for better representation on civilian and military affairs are the points that both panels agreed on.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who led the CNMI panel in the 902 talks, said the recommendations would help balance U.S. national security interests in the Western Pacific. It also honors the federal government’s commitment as stated in the Covenant that created the Commonwealth.
It also outlines the technical agreement on the use of land to be leased by the U.S. in the CNMI, with special respect on the importance of the Commonwealth’s lands.
Palacios, at the time the Senate vice president of the 19th CNMI Legislature and currently the acting governor in the absence of Torres and Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog, was part of the CNMI panel as chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Relations & Independent Agencies.
He joins local officials in hoping the GOP-dominated Congress would act quickly on the recommendations. “This report has now been sent to the U.S. Congress for further consideration and possible action.”
“We are now able to present to the federal government, as a result of our work, a clearer picture of our positions regarding the proposed military projects on our islands as well as the current issues surrounding the [CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Nonimmigrant Visa Program] and our workforce to ensure the best interests of the Commonwealth are known and reflected.”
Palacios said the final report is the result of an almost yearlong process that included several meetings and site visits. “At times, it felt as if we could not come together on concerns we brought forward to the federal team, especially with respect to land issues in the CNMI.”
“We, however, continued to advocate for the CNMI people as hard as we could in both Washington, D.C. and here at home during the site visits. Ultimately, I feel that, through this effort, we have arrived at a report that fairly presents our concerns in a thoughtful and impactful manner,” he added.
He said the process took a lot longer with the series of meetings and the incoming administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump, who will take his oath of office Friday in the U.S. mainland. “Given the incoming change of administration, we were not able to circulate the report to the CNMI Legislature for review and approval before sending the final [draft].”
“As a result, there are some differences of opinion with respect to the CNMI’s rights under the Covenant and [Department of Defense’s] proposed uses of land for military purposes that I do not believe are contained in the final report,” Palacios added.
Torres, however, said in a statement the CNMI and DoD have agreed that improved communication and working relationship were developed through the series of 902 consultations. The CNMI and DoD also gained a better appreciation of each side’s concerns that were raised on the proposed activities of the U.S. military.
“Resolving these issues in a mutually satisfactory manner will take more work and continued engagement, and a commitment to explore options and potential alternatives not currently being discussed,” said Torres.
“However, these 902 consultations have laid the groundwork for such a relationship and our continued dedication to resolve these outstanding issues must continue. With our report making its way to the U.S. Congress, we are pleased with the progress and look forward to their feedback,” he added.
Get a copy of the report on https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/uploads/902-consultations-report-january-2017.pdf