Federalization of the CNMI


Delaying the Nov. 28 federal takeover of local immigration is “very unlikely” given the three-month window to pass a law for its extension, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources staffer Allen Stayman said yesterday.

Stayman, a former director of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, also said that delaying federalization is not going to reduce the uncertainty the CNMI faces.

He also said there hasn’t been any discussion of granting improved immigration status to long-term workers in the CNMI in the U.S. Congress right now, other than a report to be done by the Interior with recommendations and options.

The Interior report is due in June 2010, and only then will Congress start to formally consider the options.

When asked about these options, Stayman said, “Well everything in the range of ‘deport everybody’ to ‘give everybody green cards’ and anything in between.”

Stayman, however, said that Russia and China “might” still be considered for inclusion in the joint Guam-CNMI visa waiver program given that the regulations are not in their “final” form yet.

“This is going to be a difficult transition and it may be that the best thing you do is to just get on with it. The further delay is not going to reduce the uncertainty that we’re currently facing. What’s going to resolve the uncertainty and the questions is to get on with the process,” Stayman told reporters after emerging from a meeting of the CNMI Energy Steering Committee at the Saipan Grand Hotel in Susupe yesterday afternoon.

With fellow U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources staffer Isaac Edwards beside him, Stayman said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “has a lot of flexibility to deal with things as they come up and I think that maybe the best way to end the uncertainty and this transition is to get it started.”

Edwards, who was visiting Saipan for the first time, also shared the concerns of many in the CNMI-that there’s a lack of communication from DHS about when the federalization regulations will come out and how they will be implemented.

Stayman said the CNMI does not have a U.S. citizen population that can meet its labor requirements, but there are two options to address this matter.

One is for the federal government to take over the guest worker program wherein their paperwork would shift from CNMI to federal, and second-which he said is a “more permanent solution”-would be to provide status under U.S. immigration law.

CNMI employers, he said, also have to consider giving two-year contracts to their employees to allow them maximum time while DHS puts forth the regulations and procedures. DHS is expected to release the regulations soon.

‘It can work if done right’

Press secretary Charles Reyes reiterated the Fitial administration’s five major reasons to push for a delay in federalization.

These are the lack of an economic study prior to the law’s passage, absence of draft regulations for foreign investors and worker visas three months before implementation, the exclusion of Chinese and Russian tourists in the visa waver program, DHS’ lack of funds and personnel to conduct business on Nov. 28, and bad timing.

“Federalization will be implemented at the worst possible time, amid a global economic recession, a Japanese recession, the complete collapse of our garment industry, and softness in our tourism industry. It is being implemented along with federal minimum wage hikes during a time of economic vulnerability for the Commonwealth,” Reyes said.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial met with Stayman and Edwards, who were here on Wednesday and Thursday before going to Guam.

“Federalization can work if it is done right and at the right time; if it provides the needed market access and flexibility for economic development; if it is well organized and well funded. Right now federalization, as currently written in law, is seriously flawed and its hasty implementation presents some very serious economic risks for the Commonwealth,” Reyes said.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan, who accompanied the visiting U.S. Senate staffers along with OIA field representative Jeff Schorr, does not support a delay in federalization but wants DHS to implement the rules “right.”

Stayman said some members of Congress have expressed concern about the visa waiver regulations, particularly the exclusion of China and Russia. The CNMI said it will lose more than $100 million with lack of access to these two tourism markets.

“We will be meeting with them tomorrow. We hope to get confirmation that they’re reconsidering that but we can’t say for sure. These regulations are interim; they’re not final regulations. But for the final regulations, they might reconsider including China and Russia,” he said.


While here, Stayman and Edwards met with Fitial, Lt. Gov. Eloy Inos, Sablan, members of the 16th Legislature, the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and federal representatives.

“In these meetings, I indicated that I don’t think a delay is possible because the deadline is so near and the amount of time it would take to pass a new law authorizing a delay is very unlikely. Also there’s a policy question of whether that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Stayman’s last visit to the CNMI was in February 2007. That year, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over U.S. insular areas, asked the Interior to draft the bill that became the basis for the federalization law, Public Law 110-229.

In the late ’90s, Stayman had actively pushed for federalization of the CNMI in his capacity as Insular Affairs director. At that time, the CNMI government and the business sector successfully lobbied against federalization.

Stayman and Edwards said they are here for a routine fact-finding mission, given the jurisdiction of the Senate committee they work for. Also on island are two Interior legislative liaison personnel.

Besides federalization, the two were here to find out more about progress the CNMI has been making in meeting the requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to be able to receive stimulus funding. They said the CNMI is eligible to get up to $130 million in ARRA money.

Yesterday, for example, the two were the special guests at the CNMI Energy Steering Committee meeting, along with Sablan.