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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (December 30, 1998 - Saipan Tribune - Abridged)---A bill restricting entry of Freely Associated States citizens into the Northern Marianas has drawn the support of important government agencies which said that uncontrolled migration results in significant impact on resources and infrastructure.

The bill, pending at the House of Representatives, would allow the government to strengthen its immigration system and set clear-cut policies on admitting Micronesians, according to papers submitted to the legislature.

Mary Lou S. Ada, Executive Director of the Northern Marianas Housing Corporation (NMHC), said the proposal will ease the burden of granting subsidies to low-income families under a welfare program that also covers FAS citizens.

NMHC owns and operates 157 units under its Section 8 program through which families receive subsidized housing and utility allowances. In addition, vouchers and certificates are also paid to 81 other low-income families renting private housing. Of the 238 families currently being assisted by the government agency, 76 are headed by FAS citizens, involving about 504 individuals, equivalent to 48 percent of the total number.

"While NMHC wholeheartedly encourages social welfare systems, it also encourages acceptance of responsibility. NMHC supports any legislation that encourages those individuals receiving welfare to return to the workforce," Ada said. She was commenting on House Bill 11-294, proposed by Rep. Melvin Faisao, which seeks to establish a mechanism to monitor Micronesians residing in the commonwealth as well as to reduce their impact on the infrastructure and public funds. Ada considered the proposal "a step in the right direction" in view of the growing number of FAS families living on government subsidies, despite failure by the U.S. to reimburse the costs to host them as stipulated in the Compact of Free Association.

Forged in 1986 with the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshalls, the agreement has allowed free migration of citizens from the neighboring islands into the United States and its territories, including Guam and the CNMI. HB 11-294 is the first attempt by the CNMI to tackle mounting problems triggered by the influx of FAS citizens, who take up residency to work and study. It also comes on the heels of stricter regulations to be imposed by the federal government against the open-migration policy.

CNMI officials maintain that the policy has severely strained local resources and infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, courts and the welfare services -- problems aggravated by the failure of Washington to reimburse the costs of hosting thousands of FAS citizens.

The Compact Agreement, due to expire in two years, has come under close scrutiny from wealthier Pacific islands such as Guam, Hawaii and the CNMI, all of which have provided free education, housing and medical benefits in the past decade to FAS citizens without federal assistance.

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