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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (September 2, 1998 - Saipan Tribune)---A clear policy has to be mapped out by the NMI government on the migration of citizens from the Freely Associated States (FAS) into the Northern Marianas to lessen its impact on local infrastructure and social services, officials said yesterday.

The House of Representatives has started looking into local concerns over a possible shift in the agreement between Washington and the FAS under the U.S. Compacts of Free Association when negotiations for renewal (with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands) begin next year.

According to House Speaker Diego T. Benavente, measures will have to be set up to deal with any change in the status of FAS citizens who, under the accords forged in 1986, are allowed to migrate freely into the U.S. mainland and territories.

He said the commonwealth must draw up the policy in anticipation of a possible transfer of hundreds of FAS citizens from Guam to the CNMI, if the Compact provision on free migration is restricted by the U.S. government.

"Because of that decision, we might need to establish the same kind of rules in the CNMI," Benavente told reporters in an interview.

A U.S. commonwealth since 1978, the island government establishes its own immigration policies separate from federal laws, as provided for under the Covenant agreement.

In the event of a revision in the accord between the U.S. and the three Freely Associated States, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshalls; many FAS citizens may be restricted from entering the mainland and the American territories excepting the NMI, due to its different immigration policy.

"I think we might be creating a situation where you're going to have a bunch of people with families who will have to exit (Guam) and the closest place to exit to will be the CNMI," Benavente explained. "It is a concern for us, although we are not ready to say that we need to establish this policy today."

He also pointed out that local officials should look into the repercussions of the Compact's migration policy, in a move to deter potentially serious impacts on the islands.

Many CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii leaders have expressed concern over the escalating costs of hosting thousands of FAS citizens, particularly on infrastructure and social needs, in the wake of minimal financial assistance from federal government.

Although Washington initially agreed to reimburse their local governments for providing housing, schooling, and other basic necessities to these migrants, it has reneged on its promise to pay the Compact fees, according to Micronesian and Hawaii officials.

Amid this failure to obtain payment, Micronesian islands are also anxious over the fate of the Compact that expires in less than three years. They maintain a reduction in economic aid to the FAS will result in large number of citizens moving into their more prosperous neighbors such as Guam, CNMI, and Hawaii.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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