GAO Report Reveals CNMI is Hampering Transition to Federalization

May 7, 2010

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released the report: DHS Should Conclude Negotiations and Finalize Regulations to Implement Federal Immigration Law. The 88-page report "describes the steps federal agencies have taken to (1) secure the border in the CNMI and (2) implement CNRA with regard to workers, visitors, and investors."

The report clearly shows that the CNMI government has been and remains uncooperative with the federal government. Specifically, the CNMI has refused to negotiate with the federal government regarding airport space, has refused to allow ICE access to the detention center, and has denied access to CNMI data bases. The airport, detention center and data bases were federally funded.

From the report:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have each taken steps to secure the border in the CNMI in accordance with CNRA. From November 28, 2009, to March 1, 2010, CBP processed 103,565 arriving travelers at CNMI airports (see photo below), and ICE processed 72 aliens for removal proceedings. In calendar year 2009, USCIS processed 515 CNMI applications for permanent U.S. residency and 50 CNMI applications for U.S. naturalization or citizenship.
However, the DHS components face operational challenges and have been unable to negotiate solutions with the CNMI government. First, airport space available to CBP does not meet facility standards and CBP has not reached a long-term occupancy agreement with the CNMI. Second, ICE has not come to an agreement with the CNMI for access to detention space and as a result has transferred 3 of 30 aliens—convicted criminals under CNMI or U.S. law—to correctional facilities in Guam and Honolulu. Third, DHS efforts to gain direct access to the CNMI’s immigration databases have been unsuccessful, hampering U.S. enforcement operations.
The report makes it clear that because of the refusal of the CNMI government to cooperate with the federal agencies, implementation of the CNRA has been impeded. The report shows that the Fitial Administration is still attempting to maintain control of immigration. The CNMI officials refused to release LIDDS and BMS information because the CBP refused to give the CNMI government air flight entry data. From the report:
  • Direct access to CNMI immigration status information would assist USCIS in responding to interagency requests for immigration status verification through its SAVE program89 and in implementing the E-Verify program in the CNMI.90
  • In February 2010, CNMI officials reported that the point of contact assigned to work with the U.S. government had promptly supplied information on individual cases to U.S. officials from immigration and border control databases. Moreover, a senior CNMI official stated that if the point of contact is unable to respond to future DHS inquiries in a timely manner, CNMI officials would be willing to engage in additional discussions regarding more direct access to LIDS and BMS.
  • According to ICE officials, the CNMI responses to ICE inquiries have not been timely and have not always provided sufficient information. Documentation that ICE provided shows that from late December 2009 through March 2010, ICE’s Office of Detention and Removal made 68 inquiries to CNMI’s Department of Labor to determine aliens’ immigration status. We examined ICE’s record of these inquiries and found that CNMI response times ranged from 16 minutes to around 23 hours, averaging roughly 4 and a half hours. ICE officials reported that the responses contained first and last names and LIDS numbers but rarely included biographical or identifying information, such as date-of birth, nationality, or photographs, that could be used to further ICE investigations. An ICE official also told us that in late February 2010, he sent an inquiry regarding whether 214 aliens with pending deportation orders, referred to ICE by the CNMI Attorney General, had been granted valid work permits prior to November 28, 2009. According to ICE officials, by the end of March 2010, the CNMI Department of Labor had provided a blanket response that was insufficient to answer the inquiry.
  • DHS has communicated, at the department and component levels, with the CNMI government regarding access to CNMI immigration data.
  • In a July 2008 letter to the Governor of the CNMI, the DHS Office of Policy requested information on the current CNMI system for recording and documenting the entry, exit, work authorization, and authorized conditions of individuals staying in the CNMl. DHS also requested any repositories of fingerprints, photographs, or other biometric information included in the system.
  • On August 19, 2008, the office of the Governor of the CNMI responded to the DHS letter by providing an overview of the BMS system but stated that the CNMI does not maintain any repositories of fingerprints or other biometric information to share with DHS. According to a CNMI official, the commonwealth requested fingerprint scanners from DHS but did not receive them.
  • During the September 2009 meeting between the Governor of the CNMI and the Secretary of DHS, the Governor proposed, through the CNMI protocol for implementing CNRA, providing restricted access to information contained in LIDS and BMS, for a fee and in exchange for airline flight entry data.
  • On February 18, 2010, the Governor sent a letter to CBP indicating that he had been preliminarily advised that CBP would not share with the CNMI advanced passenger information provided by airlines and he reiterated the CNMI’s request for this information. The letter indicated that access to the airline flight data would facilitate CNMI efforts to prevent an increase in the number of aliens remaining in the commonwealth beyond their authorized stay.
  • On March 31, 2010, CBP Office of Field Operations responded to the CNMI letter, denying the CNMI access to advanced passenger information provided by the airlines. The CBP letter stated that the CNMI’s intended use of the data did not justify their release to CNMI authorities. The CBP letter further indicated that, given DHS’s responsibility for removing aliens present in the CNMI beyond their authorized stay, it would be in the CNMI’s and DHS’s mutual interest for DHS to have access to CNMI immigration records or any other information that the Secretary deems necessary.
  • In March 2010, CNMI officials told us that the commonwealth would not provide DHS increased access to immigration and border control data because DHS was unwilling to share airline flight data. In written comments on a draft of this report, the CNMI government stated its intention to appeal to the Secretary of Homeland Security the DHS decision not to share these data.
While law enforcement officials may be concerned that the refusal of the CNMI government to share information could pose a threat to the safety of the community, it appears not to be a concern to the Fitial Administration. This statement is particularly telling: "An ICE official also told us that in late February 2010, he sent an inquiry regarding whether 214 aliens with pending deportation orders, referred to ICE by the CNMI Attorney General, had been granted valid work permits prior to November 28, 2009. According to ICE officials, by the end of March 2010, the CNMI Department of Labor had provided a blanket response that was insufficient to answer the inquiry."

The report notes that the final regulations for foreign workers, visitors and investors and will not be released by the Department of Homeland Security until later this year. From the report:
DHS has begun to implement work permit and visa programs for foreign workers, visitors, and investors, but key regulations are not final and certain transition programs therefore remain unavailable. A lawsuit filed by the CNMI government challenging some provisions of the CNRA resulted in a court injunction delaying implementation of the CNMI-only transitional worker program until DHS considers public comments and issues a new rule. As a result this program is unavailable to employers as of May 1, 2010. DHS has established the Guam-CNMI visa waiver program. However, DHS did not include China and Russia, two countries that provide significant economic benefit to the CNMI. Currently, DHS allows nationals from these two countries into the CNMI temporarily without a visa under the DHS Secretary’s parole authority. DHS is reconsidering whether to include these countries in the Guam-CNMI visa waiver program. Although DHS has proposed rules that apply temporary U.S. nonimmigrant treaty investor status to investors with CNMI foreign investor entry permits, the program is not yet available.
The report details the disagreement between the CNMI and federal governments' interpretations of umbrella permits and the conflicting guidance that has been issued by both the federal and CNMI authorities. It also discusses the meeting and forums held in the CNMI to educate the public on the implementation of the CNRA and meeting with other agencies and CNMI officials.

To come up with the recommendations "GAO reviewed federal laws, regulations, and agency documents; met with U.S. and CNMI officials; and observed federal operations in the CNMI."

Read the entire report at this link.


Anonymous said...

For an even-handed look at what is really going on here, one might be well-advised to begin with the CNMI Government comments, contained in the GAO Report, Appendix IV, at page 57.

Too bad Interior didn't have the same transparency and integrity to obtain the CNMI Government's comments to its own Report to Congress on alien status.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness for CNMI AG Edward T. Buckingham and Governor's Counsel Howard P. Willens.

Anonymous said...

8:12 Thank goodness indeed. Every story needs some truly self-serving villains. They will go down in history with the other slime-balls.

Anonymous said...

How, pray tell, are they self-serving? They are sacrificing themselves for the sake of our people.

What possible benefit does the AG get out of all this? The Governor's Counsel does have some self-interest in seeing "his" Covenant succeed as intended, but that is hardly disqualifying.

The usual bogus gossip bandied about, that Willens gets some benefit from the Section 903 lawsuit through his daughter's employment is unadulterated jealousy and disinformation.

Both of them are true heroes in service to the CNMI and its people.

Anonymous said...

I think that Buckingham came on board too late to have had any impact , one way or another, on the federalization lawsuit filed by BenTan and Willens.

Willens is the prime architect of this ill-fated lawsuit which has cost the CNMI government a lot of money and produced no tangible results. (Postponing some regulations for a month or so is not a victory!)

Ben and his cronies seem to be more interested in stroking Howie's well developed ego when the CNMI's interests would be better served by working with the federal government to produce workable regulations.

Anonymous said...

"They are sacrificing themselves for the sake of our people"

If by people you mean the Governor and his cronies. You are indeed correct. They are sacrificing every ounce of ethics and morals they had for that group of hoodlums.

Anonymous said...

"Both of them are true heroes in service to the CNMI and its people."

Just as Darth Vader was a hero to the Dark Side.

By the way, if you are not Buckingham, Deanne or Howie, one can safely assume that you are madly in love with them. No one speaks that way of AGs or Attorneys. So either stop tooting your own horn (with anonymous posts) or check yourself into Unrequited Lovers Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

They are horrible, despicable people.

Anonymous said...

Strip their US citizenship and leave the CNMI alone and let's see if they survive. They will but back to being cavemen. What do US wants on this island anyway?

Anonymous said...

I am all for permanent residency. They can stay here, but not move to US. Why should US let them? Because they are so nice? Because we need more low skilled workers in the US? Seems we have millions now. We had our on immigration system for our own island administered by our own people. For the last few months the US has had it. Control, that is, of immigration in the CNMI. The US might or might not grant. Not up to us. And remember the Virgin Islands and what happened to their IR's. Not something most people here want to think about right? Surely they would not take that route again. Surely.

Anonymous said...

We need a base on Tinian.

4,000 U.S. citizens who mostly will not vote here because they want to vote for president and as military or dependents are entitled to do so in their home states.

Some might choose to vote here, but individually they'll be gone soon enough, unless they marry local. Their money will help us, they won't be pushed around or abused like guest workers were susceptible of, but they can't run for office.

Biba Tinian Marine Corps Air Station!

The CNMI needs something to replace the garment industry, and the U.S. needs a place to replace MCAS Futenma.


The Saipan Blogger said...

The US wants to bomb all the islands north of Saipan up to Pagan, that's what they want.

Jim Benedetto said...

Is that true?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:07

I don't have to read the comments in the appendices to know you're full of it. "Too bad Interior didn't have the transparency and integrity . . ." blah, blah, blah. Interior signed its report. We know who came up with the recommendations in the report, what those recommendations were based on, and that the CNMI governor and legislature were consulted prior to its submission to the Congress. We also know that if there's anyone who hasn't had any integrity, honesty, or common sense through these past five years, it's Fitial and his has-been attack (lap) dogs. Remember the transparency with which Fitial funneled $800,000 of taxpayer money to fund a loser lawsuit? Remember how his AG, Matt Gregory, and the Deputy AG refused to sign the stupid lawsuit because they knew it lacked any merit? Remember how Fitial lined up his supporters to try to intimidate the nuns and social workers who testified on behalf of the CNMI's many human trafficking victims?

Remember how the Covenant stole the last election by promising jobs, utility bill payments, cash and other favors in exchange for votes? Integrity and transparency? You've got to be kidding.

Anonymous said...

Ben Fitial, and the people who voted for him, are the best chance CGWs have to US citizenship. The only way the US would choose number 1 is to laugh at Ben Fitial and watch his cronies whine and squirm.

Anonymous said...

I laughed so hard I almost cried when I read the comment describing Deanne Siemer, Howard Willens, and Ed Buckingham as "true heroes."

They, and others,are working tirelessly in support of the most corrupt government we have ever had in the CNMI, and defending the dubious "right" of this local government to extort businesses and restrict the freedom and economic mobility of an entire group of people in violation of the constitution.

How do they sleep at night?

Anonymous said...

"The US wants to bomb all the islands north of Saipan up to Pagan, that's what they want."

No angelo, they only want to bomb the stupid monument you sold the cnmi on.