Angered by a federal report citing inadequacies and failure of the Northern Marianas to reform its labor and immigration, CNMI leaders yesterday lashed back at the Department of the Interior for harping on biased and outdated allegations to pursue its federal takeover agenda in the US Congress.
This is the first time that Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio and Lt. Gov. Jesus R. Sablan responded to a DOI report prepared by the Office of Insular Affairs since it was submitted to US lawmakers late last year to justify the federalization of local minimum wage, immigration and customs laws.
Local leaders said they were disappointed and saddened by the report because it ignored recent efforts of the commonwealth to address problems worrying the federal government.
“The most troubling aspect of the latest Interior Report is its institutional bias to what the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has achieved under the Covenant over the past 20 years,” said a press release issued ahead of the resumption of the 902 consultations next week.
President Bill Clinton’s special representative to the bilateral discussions, Edward B Cohen, will arrive on Saipan on January 18 for a four-day talks beginning Tuesday aimed at resolving irritants in CNMI-US ties stemming from differences in handling local labor and immigration policies.
The report, according to commonwealth leaders, indicates that it is “flawed in its premises, relies on outmoded data…and is seemingly oblivious to current situation of the Commonwealth’s economy.”
In the Fourth Annual Report of the Federal-CNMI Initiative on Labor, Immigration and Law Enforcement, DOI said problems spawned by poor implementation of labor, immigration and trade laws remain “troublesome” despite reforms set in motion by the new administration.
Among the problems it cited were the continued dependence of CNMI on foreign workers, who hold 91 percent of jobs in the private sector, and the high poverty rate among locally-born US citizens at 35 percent.
The report, OIA said in a recent media release, reaffirmed the White House’s determination to support legislation that would apply US laws on immigration and minimum wage to the Northern Marianas.
But local officials noted that the findings of the federal government set aside a progress report presented to OIA Director Allen P. Stayman in November, when he met Tenorio on Guam during Clinton’s brief stopover to the neighboring island.
Over the past 12 months, the number of non-resident workers continued to drop after an indefinite ban on hiring was put in place, according to CNMI leaders, without providing figures.
The report, they added, dismissed out of hand law enforcement efforts of the commonwealth in dealing with abusive employers and assailed the lack of support from DOI to develop plans that will help the island economy.