GUALO RAI Saipan – There will be no more delays in the federalization of immigration and labor in the Northern Mariana Islands according to Gregorio C. Sablan the NMI’s delegate to the U.S. Congress during a press conference at the Pacific Islands Club on Saipan Aug. 10.
“I do not want to see another delay of the implementation of [Public Law] 110-229 ” said Sablan who said that he believes that the implementation of the law is in the best interest of the NMI.
Sablan said there are issues waiting to be resolved that have been affecting not only the Northern Mariana Islands but also Guam with whose delegate to Congress Madeleine Z. Bordallo he has been working closely. He also praised Guam for supporting NMI causes.
Although he wouldn’t want any more deferment of the implementation of the law Sablan said “If the Department of Homeland Security is not ready – and they’re not ready – if in 15 weeks they are not ready to implement the law in an appropriate manner then obviously we should consider that [a delay].”
Meanwhile Gov. Benigno R. Fitial in a media release expressed his concern at the Department of Homeland Security’s readiness to fully implement the law in the commonwealth by Nov. 28. In a meeting with the visiting congressional delegation of which both Sablan and Bordallo were part representatives of Fitial’s administration voiced support for a legislative extension of one year for the federal immigration rules that will allow a federal visa waiver to China and Russia.
When asked about the visa waiver program Rep. Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources said “I recognize the contributions and amount of support the groups [China and Russia] you have mentioned have given to the economy here in the CNMI. I recognize that this issue needs to be addressed.”
Rahall also said that the delegation heard the comments of the community on the issue including “powerful testimonies” at an assembly in the Garapan Fishing Base Aug. 9. He said there are perhaps regulations that are slowly being implemented and “there’s perhaps the non-responsiveness from DHS when individuals call and/or request information from them or seek answers to questions ” but he said that they would work with Sablan.
“It is our effort to strike a balance here and to do what is necessary to help fulfill our responsibility to the CNMI ” Rahall said.
While Sablan acknowledged the support of the Senate and the joint efforts of Guam and the NMI in resolving China and Russia’s inclusion in the visa waiver program he said he couldn’t comment on the issue as it is “premature for me to say anything in particular.”
He said though that the Department of Homeland Security is not “entirely shut out to us” as they are also considering some of the comments.
Sablan also said that DHS has been getting positive feedback on the regulations. “We may get the regulations in a couple of weeks.”
However Sablan clarified that only DHS knows whether China and Russia may be included in the visa waiver program.
Delegate Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands said “The fact that you have a delegate now serving in Congress makes a world of difference…who does advocate very strongly in your behalf….You are in a much greater advantage.”
Rahall Bordallo Christensen and Rep. Henry E. Brown Jr. of South Carolina joined Sablan at the press conference at PIC where they recognized Sablan’s efforts in advancing NMI causes.
“At the invitation of Kilili we have come here to the CNMI to first-hand talk with the constituents affected by the policies we implement – and we don’t implement – from our nation’s capital ” Rahall said. “Kilili has done a tremendous job as delegate from the CNMI. He has become involved in a number of pieces of legislation which are going to be of help to the CNMI.”
Bordallo also said she’s pleased that members of Congress were able to come to the region to listen to the community leaders. Despite the difficulty in getting the majority of the US Congress to get interested and to take up cudgels for the islands Bordallo said they have to be very diligent conscientious and determined to be able to continue to push for their causes. “In many cases we are not treated the same as states and other jurisdictions. So it is up to us to take care of these injustices ” she said.
Christensen on the other hand as the sponsor of the legislation that resulted in P.L. 110-229 said she thought it important to come out and follow up on what has been taking place in the wake of having the law put into place.
“We have stressed a couple of years ago when we had hearings on the bill that in no way is it our intention to undermine the economy of CNMI but rather as we move forward with implementation of the law that everything would be done to support the continued progress of the economy of CNMI ” she said reaffirming the Congress’ commitment.
The congressional ddelegation arrived on Saipan aboard a military plane Aug. 8 and left for Guam Aug. 10. MBJ