More questions for Interior

Posted on Jan 27 1999

It is easy for any mediocre bureaucrat to sit in his cubicle and map-out a plan that panders to special interest groups completely ignoring his fiduciary responsibility in a lead federal agency for insular areas. In the process, he’ll concoct what seems logical with propped-up data to illustrate his case. He even uses US mainland taxpayers money to turn his office into a full-time lobbyist against the NMI.

Certainly, he has access to the national media and his word becomes law because there’s no one there to dispute his masterful spins. Furthermore, the national media simply refuses to clamp down to doing basic journalistic responsibility in what’s known in verification of information. They are interested in spins rather than factual information. The saddest part of this bashing is the obvious promotion of yellow journalism premised on sensationalism over factual, responsible and fair reporting.

For now, I have the following questions to force the US Department of Interior to put its mouth where its money is, so to speak. They are:

• Covenant Section 701 states that the Federal Government “will assist” the Commonwealth “in its efforts to achieve a progressively higher standard of living for its people as part of the American economic community and to develop the economic resources needed to meet financial responsibilities of local government”.

a). Does the Interior Department have a particular standard of living for
the Northern Marianas that it considers meets the goals of Section 701?

b). How does the proposed Interior program for applying US immigration and
minimum wage laws assist to achieving “a progressively higher standard of
living” for the people of the Northern Marianas?

• The special representative wrote to Lt. Governor Sablan and referred to a commitment by President Clinton that “in light of the economic situation in the islands, we are prepared to consider further measures to achieve the transition to federal immigration and minimum wage law”. What further measures does this refer to?

• Interior has allocated funds for studies and related activities involved in a conference to be held in the NMI in March of this year under the sponsorship of the Northern Marianas College. One study will examine, among other things, the effect on the local economy of reduction in the number of alien workers employed here, the application of US immigration and minimum wage laws, and mother issues raised by the legislation proposed by the Clinton Administration to impose these laws here. Is Interior prepared to defer submission of any such proposed legislation until this study has been completed and the effects of such legislation have been analyzed?

• The most recent economic report published by the Bank of Hawaii regarding American Samoa contains the following information: American Samoa is not subject to the US immigration and minimum wage laws. The most recent available data indicates half of the population of American Samoa over the age of 16 was unemployed because of lack of work opportunities outside of government and the two canneries and single garment factory then in operation.
Virtually all of the employees in the canneries and the garment factory were alien laborers. Government jobs offer compensation and benefits greater than available in the private sector and most American Samoans work in the government rather than in the private sector. The many different minimum wages set by a complicated process of many different committees are generally lower in American Samoa than the minimum wage in the NMI, especially when the extra benefits in the NMI are factored in?

* Why does Interior apply different policies in American Samoa than in the NMI, specifically with regard to control of immigration and minimum wage?

* Are the permanent residents living and working in American Samoa entitled to vote in local elections and to become US nationals? If not, how do you justify this departure from what we have been informed are standard INA theories of immigration?

We’ll return for more questions tomorrow.

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