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By Cookie B. Micaller

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 4, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio yesterday said his administration will work to maintain control over minimum wage and immigration, easing fears that he has made a pact with Washington for a federal takeover.

President Bill Clinton recently wrote to the Governor congratulating him for agreeing to Washington's plans to apply U.S. laws on immigration and the minimum wage to the Northern Marianas.

The U.S. leader also said in a letter that Washington is "willing to consider further measures for a transition to federal law in light of the economic situation the islands face."

The letter, dated December 7, was sent after the two met briefly in neighboring Guam in late November.

Tenorio said he did not want to comment on Clinton's letter until he meets with Lt. Gov. Jesus R. Sablan, head of the CNMI 902 panel.

"I would like the CNMI to keep control of labor and immigration policies. I have told the U.S. Congress that we want to maintain control of our immigration and minimum wage and that we should be given a chance to work out these problems," Tenorio said in an interview at the Governor's official residence, without referring to the letter.

In the past, the Commonwealth leader has repeatedly vowed to thwart federalization, a plan which local officials and businessmen say would further hurt the Northern Marianas, especially at this time of economic distress.

The private sector has warned the government that raising the minimum wage to the federal standard would force businessmen to flee and potential investors to shy away from the islands. But the White House, dismayed over the failure of the CNMI officials to curb the entry of foreign workers, address labor problems and raise the local minimum wage to par with the mainland rate, has been pushing to clip the Commonwealth's power to set wages and control immigration.

An administration-sponsored bill seeking to take away local control of such policies has been marked up in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, chaired by Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska).

"We always feel that we could work closely with the federal government and the U.S. Congress and come up with a resolution without changing the intent of the Covenant," Tenorio said.

In a related development, Clinton's special representative to the 902 consultations, Edward B. Cohen, said he would like to discuss the U.S. leader's promise to Tenorio to consider measures that would set into motion the transition to federalization of local immigration and the minimum wage.

Saipan and Washington are set to resume the stalled bilateral talks this month, aimed at addressing federal concerns which have strained ties between the CNMI and U.S., the commonwealth's main economic provider.

According to Cohen, the Lieutenant Governor's suggestion to engage in an informal meeting "makes sense, in light of President Clinton's commitment to Governor Tenorio that in light of the economic situation in the islands, we are prepared to consider further measures to achieve the transition to federal immigration and minimum wage laws."

His letter, however, suggests a possible change in the agenda, which the local panel wants to have focus on resolving differences in addressing labor and immigration problems and economic assistance.

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

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