The Attorney General’s Office withdrew yesterday the proposed safe haven regulations after the project received overwhelming opposition at the public hearing Thursday evening.
Deputy Attorney General Clyde Lemons Jr. issued a public notice saying that the proposed regulation would be withdrawn until further notice. He added, though, that the AGO, as provided by law, would fully consider all written and oral submissions regarding the proposed Safe Haven Entry Permit regulation.
“Given the volume of the written submissions and the length of the public hearing held on Dec. 29, 2005 (said hearing being recorded), the Attorney General’s Office needs time to comply with said provisions of the law,” said Lemons.
The Multi-Purpose Center was packed Thursday night, with a huge number of local residents opposing the project.
There were also some supporters of the project, mostly officials and members of the United States International Mission, a non-profit organization seeking to establish a safe house for Vietnamese girls rescued from human trafficking and forced prostitution in Cambodia.
During the public hearing, USIM was given a chance to make a presentation on the project. Lemons and Chief Prosecutor Jeffrey Moots were also present to answer questions on behalf of the AGO.
Attorney General Pamela S. Brown, who initiated the promulgation of the safe haven regulations, did not show up. She had designated Lemons to handle all matters relating to the controversial safe haven regulations, in the hope of dispelling speculation that she had personal interest in the project.
Sen. Pete Reyes and congresswoman-elect Cinta Kaipat, who brought the AGO’s proposal out in the public, were the first ones to speak at the public hearing.
Reyes reiterated questions and concerns he had raised about the regulations.
He also observed that most of the individuals in favor of the project were from outside the Commonwealth. “We have heard support from such places as France, Canada, Afghanistan, and the Netherlands and I am certain there are others. And why should they not support this plan. It will not have any ill effect on them. I have heard none of them expressing an interest in bringing these unfortunate souls to their countries. If these individuals felt this was such a great plan, why are they not lobbying their own governments to bring these poor children into their respective jurisdictions?” he asked.
Over 1,000 local residents have signed Reyes’ petition against the adoption of the regulation.
Senator-elect Maria Frica T. Pangelinan also made a comprehensive critique of the proposed regulations, noting alleged loopholes in specific provisions.
“The regulations are too vague to pass for a proposed project of this magnitude. Too much of the regulations are at the ‘discretion of the AG’ and to be sorted out in the ‘memorandum of agreement’ which has yet to be written,” she noted.
Pangelinan also challenged USIM attorney Stephen Nutting’s argument that the CNMI was chosen for the safe haven project because the Commonwealth has control of its immigration laws.
“It is insulting to hear this reasoning that we have been hearing about the CNMI controlling its immigration. So does Japan, and each country in Europe and every country in the world. Since this is so, could it be that what is really being said to us, is that because we are such a naïve and small community, that the chances of manipulating us are way easier than manipulating other, larger countries,” she said.
Dr. Carlos Camacho, the Commonwealth’s first governor, also stood up against the proposal. “In all my experience, this is the best con job I’ve ever seen. We are being conned. …Please disapprove this regulation, I ask you,” he asked Lemons.
Martin Manglona, chairman of the Fitial administration’s transition committee, announced that the incoming government would not support the project. “We can’t take care of the world’s problems. You [USIM] don’t have the experience. We don’t have the facility. We’re not going to entertain this…period,” Manglona said.
Several other citizens, including Saipan Tribune columnist Ruth Tighe, a school teacher, a mother, and a foster parent to abused local children, expressed opposition to the project.
Meanwhile, USIM Saipan president David J. Sablan said he understands the people’s frustration, which is probably caused by problems they have with the AGO.
“I appeal to you on the basis of humanity. Don’t let this project go to waste. I’ve done my due diligence on this. This program is not a scam,” he said.
Bishop Tomas A. Camacho issued a statement in support of the safe haven concept. But he also called for careful planning.
“We wholeheartedly support victims of oppression and encourage careful development of programs to assist them. Realizing that attention to detail is required from entry planning through exit strategies, a project of this magnitude must be carefully scrutinized since human lives are at stake. Everything should be in place before the first child arrives,” reads a portion of the bishop’s statement.
“If victims of human trafficking from other nations are admitted to the CNMI for treatment and rehabilitation, the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa will extend whatever pastoral services we can to support them and those who assist them, including the recruitment of clergy or pastoral workers speaking the native languages of the victims of human trafficking,” the statement added.