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By Al Hulsen

HONOLULU, Hawaii (August 25,1997 - PIDP/CPIS)---A high-level U.S. government delegation, including senior representatives from the Departments of Commerce, Interior, Justice, Labor and State, will be in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss growing concerns about CNMI labor, immigration, and law enforcement matters which have been called "inconsistent with U.S. policies and values."

The multi-agency delegation is following up on President Bill Clinton's strongly-worded personal letter to CNMI Governor Froilan Tenorio last May, that federal "immigration, naturalization, and minimum wage laws should now be applied to the Commonwealth."

In the letter, Clinton said an extension of federal laws, as provided for in the Covenant between Washington and Saipan, will be implemented "in a reasonable and appropriate manner."

Administration efforts to do so, through the United States Congress, now are underway and the visiting delegation will alert the CNMI to its plans.

Last month, Director of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs OIA), Allen Stayman, said disturbing practices in the island group, located north of the U.S. Territory of Guam, are inconsistent with U.S. policies and values and serious problems are in need of resolution. The problems, he noted, include such maters as high U.S. citizen unemployment rates, caused by a Marianas labor market flooded with alien workers, an immigration system which does not require the issuance of visas prior to an alien's arrival in the CNMI, and a trade system loophole which allows thousands of workers from the People's Republic of China to sew in "Made in USA" labels on more than half a billion dollars worth of garments shipped to the U.S. mainland each year.

The Covenant which established the CNMI-U.S. association in 1986, did not immediately impose certain U.S. labor and immigration laws.

Last week in Washington, Commerce Department Secretary William Daley said, "We are concerned that Chinese firms in the CNMI, using almost exclusively Chinese labor and material to gain access to the U. S. market, free of both U.S. quotas and duties, are taking jobs from U. S. citizens and permanent resident aliens."

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt indicated that the U.S. "wants to see more job opportunities and higher wages for CNMI residents. . . and equitable treatment for alien workers."

The Washington delegation, in addition to presenting its own views, will seek recommendations from elected officials, including Governor Tenorio, and the general Marianas community regarding the specific needs of the islands and resolutions to the problems identified in Washington.

Meantime, in Honolulu, Bank of Hawaii economist Wali Osman, who is a Pacific Islands specialist, says CNMI's economy is "dynamic," adding that "it may be the only one still growing in the Pacific, and growing rapidly."

He calls the Marianas a "country within a country," with the protection of the U.S. flag and labor costs as low as those in developing countries.

Osman says CNMI officials are concerned that implementing the U.S. minimum wage of $4.75 in Saipan garment factories will put the industry out of business." The CNMI minimum wage is $3.05, although it is suspected that garment workers often are paid considerably less.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was taken from Japan after World War II and administered by the U.S. under a United Nations trusteeship for 42 years. In 1986, the islands became U.S. territory and its residents became U.S. citizens.

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