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BREAKING NEWS 8 a.m. - President Bush signs CNMI immigration, delegate legislation into federal law
Pacific Daily News, May 9, 2008

8 a.m., May 9 - The federal CNMI immigration and delegate legislation was signed into law by President Bush today.

The President signed the Consolidated Natural Resources At of 2008 (S. 2739), which contains provisions that extends U.S. immigration laws to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and authorize a CNMI non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Enactment of this bill ushers in a new era for the people of the CNMI – one that promises closer cooperation and greater consultation among the territory, the Federal government, and the U.S. Congress," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV).

"This long-awaited victory is a critical step toward preventing a recurrence of the horrible abuses that pervaded the CNMI as a result of an unchecked and ruthless garment industry. As Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, I look forward to welcoming a CNMI Delegate to this body in the 111th Congress,” Rahall said.

Subcommittee on Insular Affairs Chairwoman Donna M. Christensen (D-VI) said, “Today is a historic victory for the many people of the CNMI who have been frustrated by the lack of representation in the U.S. Congress and the poor management of local immigration policy."
Islands' immigration fight heats up
By Donna Leinwand for the USA TODAY, 10/7/07

For 20 years, the federal government, Washington politicians and a disgraced lobbyist have squabbled over an immigration loophole affecting a remote chain of Western Pacific islands. Now the Bush administration is adding a fresh argument to try to resolve that long-simmering battle: homeland security.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has controlled its own immigration since it joined the United States as a territory in 1976. Federal officials say its lax local immigration rules have contributed to human trafficking and smuggling in the territory.

That local oversight presents an increasing risk, federal officials say, as the military expands its bases on neighboring Guam, a major military outpost about 130 miles away that includes Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam. By 2010, the Defense Department has said it will move 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 family members there, bringing the military population in Guam to about 38,000 people.

The Homeland Security Department recognizes “there is a potential vulnerability that could be exploited by a foreign national looking to gain entry into the United States,“ spokesman Russ Knocke says. “As we look at this in a post-9/11 world, when we encounter something that is fixable, we want to fix it.“

Smugglers ‘caught all the time’

Local immigration officials do not prescreen, interview or fingerprint people who want to enter, says Interior Department Deputy Secretary David Cohen, who oversees U.S. territories. The garment and tourism industries there have relied on “guest workers” from the Philippines and China who are willing to work for low wages.

Smugglers “are caught all the time with boatloads of people who are landing in Guam” from the Northern Marianas, Cohen says. “It’s possible that they are in search of better economic opportunity. But if people can get to Guam for that reason, they can get to Guam for other reasons.”

Both Guam and the Northern Marianas “offer a target-rich environment for terrorist activity,”according to a 2002 classified report for the Justice Department. The Northern Marianas are “currently being exploited by transnational criminal organizations and possibly by terrorist groups,” the report said. If the security holes are left open, “there is a high probability”that they could be used in a deliberate attack against the USA.

The push to close the loophole by imposing federal immigration law is not new, but previous attempts — dating back to the Reagan administration — were thwarted by others, including the territory's powerful lobbyist: Jack Abramoff.

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