Federalization Bill Debate

March 20, 2008

Today's Marianas Variety has a story by reporter, Gemma Casas, featuring an interview with Jim Benedetto, the Federal Ombudsman. He clarifies options for employers and non-resident workers under S. 2739 which was introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) last week. Mr. Benedetto said, "Technically, all documented foreign workers on the islands will be treated as transitional workers if the local immigration system is federalized."

"The nonimmigrant workers’ program, according to Benedetto, will allow employers to have their foreign hires get H1 or H2 visas.

Contrary to the business sector and the administration’s contention, Benedetto said such visas will not be counted against the numerical limitations set forth throughout the U.S. He said only about 66,000 visas are issued under this category and are not equally divided among the states.

He said the S.2739 version exempts Guam and the Northern Marianas from the numerical limitation in consideration of the territories need for more skilled workers. For instance if a U.S. company wishes to relocate its high-tech operations on the islands and will need 10,000 skilled foreign workers, that number will not be counted against the national H-visas of more than 60,000.

Guam estimates it will need at least 15,000 skilled workers to finish all the new infrastructure and facilities that will be built ahead of the relocation of the 8,000 U.S. Marines from its base in Okinawa, Japan to the island. The construction phase is scheduled to begin in 2010.

The nonimmigrant program visa under S. 2739, however, is strictly limited to Guam or to the Northern Marianas.

“An alien, if otherwise qualified, may seek admission to Guam or to the commonwealth during the transition program as a nonimmigrant worker under section 101(a)(15)(H) of the Immigration and Nationality Act…without counting against the numerical limitations set forth in section 214(g) of such Act (8 USC) 1184(g)). This subsection does not apply to any employment to be performed outside of Guam or the commonwealth,” a portion of S. 2739 stated."


Also, in today's Variety was a letter to the editor by Ron Hodges, Chamberonomics 45...Bad guys never change. In the letter he quotes Jim Benedetto as saying:

“The CNMI cannot offer anyone permanent residence. The CNMI’s Constitution, Article II, Section 5, prevents the CNMI Legislature from passing any legislation that creates permanent residency or citizens, other than those who were born here. Article II, Section 5 says, in part: ‘The Legislature shall enact no law which increases the class of non-aliens.’ "

In today's Saipan Tribune were stories covering interviews with the anti-federalization team. Charles Reyes, the governor's press secretary, (who some say speaks for Howard Willens and Deanne Siemer) voiced the administration's objections to the bill. Some say that the governor and his "consultants" are posturing to "sue the federal government." Attendees of the labor forum held at the Philippine Consulate said Deanne Siemer alluded to that fact at that meeting. It is unlikely that the CNMI would win the case, and such a lawsuit would only succeed in burning more taxpayers' money that is needed for infrastructure, schools, and salaries.

These remarks in the article suggest consultants had a hand in this press release:

“The assurances cited by Mr. Wicker have no legal significance with respect to the duties assigned to the federal agencies under the legislation. Such lofty aspirations, routinely ignored by the courts, are likely to be examined only if the need arises to ascertain the intent and meaning of a statute fairly susceptible to different constructions.

“In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has emphasized the need to focus on the specific words used by Congress in the statute's operative provisions, with little (if any) relevance attributed to legislative history or broadly-stated legislative objectives,” said Reyes in an e-mail to the Saipan Tribune."

Lynn Knight chair of HANMI said that S. 2739 is "vague at best and ambiguous in many parts." You can read her opinion of the bill in this Saipan Tribune story.