Washington, D.C. — U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan today introduced legislation that delays the start of federal immigration control in the Northern Mariana Islands until December 1, 2010.A delay is not only not necessary, but would be counterproductive to the very goals that the congressman appears to support. It would create more uncertainty for struggling business owners and for nonresidents and their families who would like the process to start. A delay would perpetuate the economic troubles and delay any recovery.
“I have made the decision to seek this delay only after much deliberation,” said Sablan. “I firmly believe that federal control of the borders will reduce the scams and abuses that have been a hallmark of local immigration control.
“And I believe that just as political union with the United States was a wise decision and one that benefits the Northern Mariana Islands every single day, so too will it benefit us to be part of the U.S. immigration system.
“But the simple truth is that the Department of Homeland Security, which has had almost a year and a half to prepare, is not ready to implement U.S. Public Law 110-229 on November 28.
“I know that for many people in Washington and in the Commonwealth, who have been pushing for U.S. control of immigration, my bill will seem like backsliding. And I certainly would have preferred not to have to take this action. But I also have to acknowledge the reality of the situation.
“Homeland Security has not finalized arrangements for space at the ports of entry that it must control. No construction of facilities at the ports has begun. None of the sophisticated communications and data entry equipment and supporting infrastructure needed have been installed. Not a single Customs and Border Patrol employee is in place in the Marianas to manage the start-up, which is scheduled to occur in just 65 days.
“Even the Department of Homeland Security itself has now admitted in written reply to Congress that the Department will not be fully operational in the Marianas until 2011.
“That’s not good enough. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands – and the people of all the United States – deserve and expect all U.S. borders to be fully operational all the time.”
Sablan’s bill does not just delay the start of federal control for a year. The bill also responds to agency foot-dragging by requiring reports to Congress every 30 days on actions being taken to be fully prepared to man the borders on December 1, 2010.
“I want to make clear that my bill is not delay for the sake of delay. And I certainly don’t want to find us back in this same predicament a year from now with an impending start up date and an agency that isn’t prepared.
“My bill requires DHS to provide Congress with detailed budgets for the next two years to show how the transition will be paid for. The Department will be required to explain what equipment, software, and personnel needs it has and how it plans to get that infrastructure in place.”
The measure also addresses the issue of the visa waiver program that currently allows Russians and Chinese tourists to easily enter the Commonwealth.
“Although the CNMI visa waiver program would continue as is for another year under my bill, I also want Homeland Security to report to Congress on what will happen after the new start date of December 2010. If there are additional security measures needed to allow Russians and Chinese to enter, what are those measures? DHS has never told us. And, if Russian and Chinese are still excluded from a visa waiver program after December 2010, then I want DHS to explain how these countries can be included at a later date.
“I also want DHS to explain why the system we have now, which requires a bond from tourist agencies sending Russians and Chinese here and which has operated almost completely trouble free, can’t be the system that DHS uses to handle these tourists.”
DHS was granted the 180-day delay that was allowed in the law. The DHS has indicated at the hearing, in correspondence and at face-to-face meetings that they would be ready to implement the law on November 28th. Why would they possibly say that they are ready, if they are not? It makes absolutely no sense. Certainly if they were not ready they would have taken advantage of all the opportunities offered to them by Cong. Sablan, Governor Fitial and federalization fighter calling for a delay instead of insisting that they are prepared.
Question: What progress has the Department made in establishing the physical infrastructure needed to implement its requirements under the law?Where did it ever say in PL 110-299 that on the date that the law begins a complete infrastructure must be in place? Secure and operational border control can certainly take place without buildings.
Under the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, Public Law 110-229, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is required to begin transitioning implementation of immigration laws at ports of entry in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) starting November 28, 2009. CNMI will retain customs and agriculture functions on each of the islands. To achieve this end, CBP has made considerable progress in planning to provide the specific port of entry infrastructure and components required to commence operations within the CNMI.
Since the facilities and infrastructure currently utilized by the CNMI Immigration Service are inadequate to support CBP operations, DHS will be taking a phased approach to implement the standard infrastructure and permanent staffing requirements at the CNMI. These requirements include: adequate power supply at CBP facilities to support the required information technology infrastructure; construction of new, and improvement of the existing facilities; physical security (both interior and exterior) and access control; standard maintenance and cleaning; firing range access for uniformed CBP officers; standard CBP signage; and adequate supplies of potable water.
In order to have facilities and infrastructure in place in a manner comparable to the level provided at other similar ports of entry in the United States, in FY 2009 DHS is working to initiate the necessary contracts. DHS is focusing on the airport facilities in Saipan and Rota first to commence operations by the new implementation date of November 28, 2009.
In the second phase beginning in FY 2010, DHS will staff these locations with a combination of experienced Temporary Duty (TDY) CBP officers as well as entry level positions. Additionally, the Tinian airport facility may become operational in order to provide services on all three major islands within the CNMI.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will place personnel on a TDY status in CNMI starting in FY 2010 and will begin the process to build out temporary facilities. However, permanent facilities and infrastructure (IT, equipment) will not be in place until FY 2011.
During Phase I and II, seaport operations will be run remotely from the airports, with staff assigned on an as needed basis and technology needs being leveraged from existing technology at the airports. The development of three seaports on Saipan, Rota, and Tinian in FY 2011 will bring all six designated ports of entry into full operations.
To maximize resources and ensure effective communication, CBP continues to coordinate closely with other DHS components responsible for providing operations within the CNMI, including ICE and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
On March 10, 2009 USCIS opened its Application Support Center (ASC) in Saipan. The collection of biometrics from applicants for benefits is an essential mission of USCIS and this supports that effort in the CNMI and eliminates the need for current and future applicants to go to the ASC in Guam. This ASC is an expanded ASC in that it has officers stationed to provide information to the public and to conduct interviews of applicants for benefits and is not solely for the collection of biometrics.
Let's play the devil's advocate and say that DHS really were not ready when November 28, 2009 rolled around. What would happen? The White House could be called upon to issue federal troops to the CNMI to secure the western border of the United States. Do you really believe that DHS does not know the implications of not being ready for the November deadline?