CNMI Congressman Sablan: Hearing Needed on Implementation of Immigration Law

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Guam – Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) and Ranking Member Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-MP) agreed Thursday on the need for the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs to hold a hearing on implementation of federal immigration law in the Northern Mariana Islands. Fleming indicated that he would consult with House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings on the timing of the hearing. The exchange between Fleming and Sablan took place at the start of the Subcommittee’s hearing on the fiscal 2012 appropriations request for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Today was Sablan’s first appearance as Ranking Member, the Democratic leader, of the Subcommittee.

Today was also the end of the first quarter of 2011, a period during which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had said she expected to have finalized regulations for the CNMI-only transitional worker classification. The regulations will provide a system for alien workers employed in the Northern Marianas, who are not eligible for any other federal employment-based visa, to keep working in the CNMI during the transition period.

But no regulations were published; and DHS has made no further statement on when the work will be done.

Sablan used the hearing to alert Fleming to the DHS failure to get regulations out within the expectedtime period. Sablan asked the Chairman to schedule a hearing on the regulations and other immigration transition matters as soon as possible.

Fleming said that he and Sablan have talked before about the implementation of Public Law 110-229, the law extending federal immigration to the Northern Mariana Islands.

“The Department of Homeland Security has been remiss in meeting its deadlines to publish many of the implementing regulations,” Fleming said.

“The lack of regulations has created uncertainty in the region and has had an adverse impact on job creation and the local economy.”

Sablan, too, focused on the negative impact on businesses.

“I will tell you that without these regulations businesses are hurting. They cannot sign contracts or plan for the future without knowing whether their workers will be available. We have to end this uncertainty.”

The transition period for implementation of federal immigration began on November 28, 2009; and Homeland Security did issue an interim rule on transitional workers one month earlier.

The CNMI Government, however, took DHS to court to block the rule.

A federal court upheld parts of the CNMI complaint and sent the regulations back to DHS with instructions to follow proper administrative procedures and reissue the rule. That was on November 25, 2009.

16 months later DHS has still not acted.

Last December, Napolitano responded to a letter from then-House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV), Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), and Sablan, saying she “expects to publish the Transitional Worker Visa Classification Final Rule during the first quarter of Calendar Year 2011.”

Today was the final day of the quarter and the transitional worker rule has not been published, leading to Sablan’s call for “an oversight hearing on this and other issues regarding the transition to federal control of immigration in the Northern Mariana Islands as soon as possible.”

Fleming said it is hisintention to consult with Hastings “and see when we can have such a hearing.

“The Department of Homeland Security and other witnesses would be invited to testify on the implementation of the Act to allow the Subcommittee an opportunity to have a broad discussion on what I recognize is an important matter for your constituents,” Fleming added.

For his part, Sablan said that he remains extremely concerned about the problem that the continued delay in the publication of the CNMI-only worker rule creates for businesses, workers, and the economy of the Commonwealth.

“However, we know from the mandate contained in Public Law 110-229 that there will be a way for businesses to have access to foreign workers, if there are no local workers available.

“And I look forward to working together with Chairman Fleming to ensure DHS gets its job done implementing that mandate.”