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  1. #1
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    Islands' immigration fight heats up

    Islands' immigration fight heats up

    By Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington ... hole_N.htm

    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."

    FIND MORE STORIES IN: House | Congress | Abramoff | Guam | Saipan | Northern Mariana islands | Donna Leinwand | US territories | Mariana Islands | Pacific Islands
    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.

    Opposition waning

    Its government hired Abramoff in 1995, paying him and his firm more than $6 million to fend off U.S. minimum wage, labor and immigration laws, court records show.

    Abramoff is now serving five years and 20 months in prison for tax evasion, defrauding Native American tribes and corrupting public officials. With the powerful lobbyist gone, sponsors of new bills in the Senate and House say Congress finally appears willing to close the loophole.

    "There is support for the overall bill. We're just trying to work out the kinks," says Delegate Donna Christensen, D-Virgin Islands. In May, Congress forced the islands to phase in federal minimum wage laws despite fierce local opposition.

    Northern Marianas officials testified in an August congressional hearing that a federal takeover of immigration will devastate an economy already in shambles and gut a guest-worker program that has lured industry.

    "The idea that this bill has anything to do with U.S. homeland security is just a laughable excuse," former governor Froilan Tenorio wrote in the local Saipan Tribune.

    The territory has attracted foreign factories by offering cheap labor and a "Made in the USA" label. At its 1999 peak, 34 apparel factories operated there. From 1998 to 2000, it shipped $1 billion in clothing to the mainland USA, according to the Commerce Department.

    That industry collapsed last year after new U.S. trade agreements relaxed import quotas and tariffs on some foreign goods, meaning foreign companies no longer needed to stay there to export their products to the mainland USA.

    Tourism, the second biggest industry, has continued a decline.

    A look at past controls

    The guest-worker program provoked Congress to examine the Northern Marianas' immigration controls in the 1980s and 1990s. Federal labor officials and human rights investigators accused the territory of allowing widespread labor abuses.

    Tim Moran, an assistant U.S. attorney who worked in the capital of Saipan from 2004 to 2007, prosecuted several human trafficking and immigration fraud cases. In a typical case, he says, a Chinese national pays an employment recruiter about $5,000 to get a job. In one case, seven women thought they had jobs in a karaoke club but were forced to work as prostitutes to repay the recruiter.

    To fend off previous attempts to exert more oversight, island officials hired Abramoff and courted powerful members of Congress, including former House majority leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

    Congress, now under Democratic control, phased in the federal minimum wage over eight years. In July, wages increased 50 cents to $3.55 an hour.

    The Defense Department's expanding military presence on Guam also is building momentum to corral the Northern Marianas.

    "Before 9/11, the main worry was with organized crime. Now, an additional concern is terrorism, says Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who chairs the key Senate committee for the bill.

    Christensen, who sponsored the House version says, "It was never intended that the Northern Marianas would stay outside the U.S. immigration law forever."

    Posted 6h 46m ago
    Updated 4h 53m ago
    To report corrections and clarifications, contact Reader Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification.

  2. #2
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    Re: Islands' immigration fight heats up

    Quote Originally Posted by GREGAGREATAMERICAN
    The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has controlled its own immigration since it joined the United States as a territory in 1976.
    So much for "only the Feds can enforce the immigration laws!" This part of the US has been enforcing them for 30 years!! I hope they use this against the racists that are suing to stop the OK law.
    Beezer likes this.
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