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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands---(June 1, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---A single misdemeanor conviction in the Commonwealth or court sentence on charges of prostitution and illegal drugs will soon be grounds for deportation of foreign workers under a proposed legislation that has drawn support from lawmakers.

The House Committee on Labor and Immigration has completed review of the measure, offered by Rep. Oscar M. Babauta, to put teeth into existing deportation laws in view of conflicting interpretation between the Superior Court and the Attorney General's office.

In a report adopted by the House of Representatives, the committee said the proposed bill will enhance safety and security for local residents, who have expressed concerns over rising crime incidents on the island involving guest workers.

According to latest government statistics, crimes in the CNMI have shot up nearly three-fold over the last 10 years as more than 4,000 cases were recorded last year, compared to about 1,000 in 1988.

However, there is no official record of the number of nonresidents involved in these incidents or convicted by the court and then expelled from the island.

Since there have been various interpretation of the deportation laws, committee members believed the measure would help clarify confusion on the provisions of the Constitution and aid the court in determining whether a foreigner has committed a deportable offense.

"It is our intent that those aliens who commit crimes other than traffic violations be subject to deportation," they said in the report.

"We feel that it is appropriate for the Attorney General to have greater discretion to seek deportation. This amendment will provide that extra needed measure of security for our citizens."

Called the Deportation Amendment Act of 1999, House Bill 11-79 will seek changes in the law to broaden the grounds for expulsion from the CNMI of any alien who has been convicted on felony or misdemeanor charges.

At present, the Commonwealth Code considers conviction in a felony, two or more misdemeanors, any crime of moral turpitude or any firearms control as grounds for deportation.

Under Babauta's proposal, the criteria will be widened to include conviction on prostitution, violations of controlled substance prohibitions as well as single misdemeanor, except for traffic violations.

The AGO shall also be permitted to request the court for deportation of the convicted nonresident as part of the sentence, but the Superior Court will still have discretionary power whether to rule in favor of the government.

In such case, the court may order the deportation of the convicted alien either upon the completion of the sentence for the misdemeanor offense or in lieu of such sentence, according to the bill.

In its findings, the Legislature said that CNMI deportation laws "must be narrowly construed and strictly implemented" and that the "statutory guidance in the application of the two misdemeanor rule of our deportation statute would be helpful" to the courts.

HB 11-79, which now awaits voting by the full body, aims primarily to define criminal offenses that are grounds for an alien's expulsion following legal disputes between the court and AG on the government deportation proceedings.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT

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