House seeks comprehensive plan to stop federal takeover

Posted on Jul 09 1999

The Northern Marianas government must draw up a comprehensive plan and not piece-meal solution to labor and immigration problems on the island in efforts to persuade U.S. lawmakers against federal takeover of these Commonwealth functions.

This is the position of the House Federal and Foreign Relations Committee which it has presented to Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio ahead of the scheduled oversight hearing in Washington D.C. on pending legislation that will apply U.S. immigration, minimum wage and custom laws in the CNMI.

“As the policy-makers of the Commonwealth, the CNMI executive and legislative branches should formulate a comprehensive plan, not piece-meal, that would hopefully appease the Clinton Administration and accommodate federal concerns,” said Jose S. Dela Cruz, legal counsel for the House committee.

While the Tenorio administration has implemented policies intended to curb the number of guest workers on the island, political observers believe the government has yet to map out long-term solutions to address its continued dependency on foreign labor.

This has been the contentious issue that has driven a wedge on CNMI’s relations with federal government in recent years as evidenced by the slew of legislation proposing application of U.S. laws here.

According to Dela Cruz’ analysis adopted by the local legislative panel, the plan should be “reasonable and achievable” to allow joint CNMI and federal efforts that will convince members of the Congress against supporting takeover moves.

Dela Cruz said the local government must hire an immigration law expert who could help the CNMI tailor legislation addressing both the manpower needs of the Commonwealth and the overall concerns of Washington.

“I believe the CNMI has to be proactive in this matter, rather than merely reacting on a case-by-case basis to federal takeover proposals,” the former judge explained. “Let us suggest alternative legislation, for a change.”

The statement is part of the legal opinion submitted to the governor by the House committee that analyzed two measures pending action in the Congress, including the proposal drafted by Edward B. Cohen, Clinton’s special representative to the 902 talks.

Committee chair Rep. Melvin Faisao said they have provided a copy of the position paper to the governor, who has yet to respond on its list of recommendations.

Tenorio as well as other island leaders are expected to testify on July 27 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on a bipartisan bill seeking full extension of Immigration and Nationality Act to the CNMI.

Committee chair Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) in another fresh attempt to reform labor and immigration standards on the island.

This is one of seven federal takeover proposals pending or about to be introduced in the Congress. Cohen, who held talks with CNMI officials early this year, has proposed a comprehensive legislation to strip local control of immigration, minimum wage and customs standards.

According to Faisao, Commonwealth leaders must strongly oppose these actions to preserve its self-government status granted under the Covenant agreement and ensure continued economic growth for the indigenous people.

“We have every reason to fight for our rights,” he said in an interview.

Island leaders have repeatedly warned Congress against the devastating impact to the economy of any federal takeover plan, noting the condition in this tiny Pacific territory is unique owing to its geographical location.

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