U.S. COMMISSION RECOMMENDS URGENT RESOLUTION OF CNMI IMMIGRATION PROBLEMS

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 14, 1998 - PIDP/CPIS)---In a final report to the U.S. Congress, the Commission on Immigration Reform has called for urgent consideration of "serious immigration problems" in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

The Commission's report on the U.S. northwest Pacific territory notes that 90 percent of the CNMI's private sector workers now are temporary, low paid alien workers, perpetuating "a dependence on government employment for the indigenous (U.S. citizen) population."

The Commission members recommend phasing out, in three to five years, the current CNMI immigration provisions permitting the admission of foreign contract workers in what it calls "exploitive occupations," such as "garment workers, household workers, bar girls and other categories in which exploitation is common."

The Commission also recommends that the Washington administration attempt to negotiate a settlement of the immigration issue with the new CNMI government of Pedo P. Tenorio, which took office Monday. If these efforts are not successful, the Commission says, Congress then should extend federal immigration laws to the Mariana Islands.

The CNMI currently has the authority to set its own immigration policies, but when the island group became a U.S. territory in 1976, Congress specifically reserved the right to extend federal immigration laws to the Commonwealth at a future time.

The U.S. Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), describing the negative impact of the CNMI immigration policy in a statement, says an estimated 35,000 foreign workers from Asia, more than half the CNMI population, now are employed in the Commonwealth, where U.S. citizens have a very high14 percent unemployment rate.

Officials are primarily concerned about the CNMI's mammoth foreign operated garment industry, which OIA Director Allen P. Stayman says "deprives U.S. firms of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of sales and profits, U.S. workers of thousands of jobs, and, were the garments to be manufactured in Asia, some $150,000,000 in customs duties."

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