OIA no position yet on extension

The Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs that has jurisdiction over U.S. territories has no official position yet whether to support or not the extension of the federal immigration transition period beyond 2014, although Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta said yesterday it is “not unreasonable” for the CNMI to request for such an extension if it deems this necessary.

“We haven’t come to a conclusion. .There’s no public position yet. We’re working closely with both the local government and stakeholders within the CNMI, so that our federal government can have a complete understanding of the reasons that would constitute or justify an extension of the transition period,” Babauta said in an interview at the ribbon cutting for a Papago waterline project yesterday afternoon.

Under the law that placed CNMI immigration under federal control, the alien worker population should be zeroed out after Dec. 31, 2014.

But the same law allows for a five-year extension, to be assessed and determined by the U.S. Labor secretary in consultation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary and the CNMI governor.

Babauta, at the same time, said the Interior fulfilled its mandate under U.S. Public Law 110-229 to make recommendations to Congress on the status of alien workers in the CNMI but Congress has not taken action on it two years since the May 2010 submission.

“There’s nothing in the law that compelled Congress to act based on a report. There was something in the law that compelled the Department of the Interior to report to Congress and that’s what we did,” he said.

Babauta said at this point, there’s nothing else that Interior could do on the status of foreign workers. He said everything now is in the hands of Congress.

Worker groups in the CNMI-including the United Workers Movement-NMI, Dekada Movement and Marianas Advocates for Humanitarian Affairs Ltd.-are opposed to extending the transition period beyond 2014 and are instead asking the U.S. government to grant improved immigration status to long-term legal alien workers in the CNMI.

But Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and the Saipan Chamber of Commerce support extending the transition period, saying the current resident population still could not fill the void if and when the foreign worker population is zeroed out after 2014. Fitial is also opposed to granting improved immigration status to these foreign workers.

By Haidee V. Eugenio

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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