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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 28, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---Because funds have been held up, Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio yesterday gave assurances that his administration would seek other means to finance a voluntary repatriation program for foreign workers who have been abandoned by their employers.

"There are several nonresident workers who wanted to go and we are trying to look for some funding so they will be accommodated," he told reporters.

The Commonwealth spent nearly $600,000 for the hosting of close to 500 illegal Chinese immigrants on Tinian after they were sent there by U.S. authorities to seek temporary shelter.

Most of the funds came from the deportation fund of the Department of Labor and Immigration, which was used to compensate and repatriate displaced workers prior to the Tinian operation, which lasted three months beginning in April.

Because of this, the department has suspended indefinitely the program until the island government receives reimbursement from the federal government, which had promised to pay the costs associated with the hosting.

Tenorio disclosed other CNMI funds were also tapped to assist Washington, but the bulk came from the DOLI account. "As soon as we're reimbursed, we will immediately replenish the utilized account," he said.

Signed into Public Law 11-66 last February, the program provides up to $3,000 in compensation to nonresident workers awaiting awarded monetary damages from companies which have closed down without paying their back wages.

More than 50 people, most of them Filipinos, Bangladeshis and Chinese, have so far gone back to their countries under this voluntary program, which had been prompted by concerns from U.S. lawmakers on the growing number of displaced guest workers in the Commonwealth.

At least $150,000 has been spent by the government since the first group of repatriates left the island last March. The funds were largely drawn up from revenues collected by DOLI under the Deportation Fund set up last year by the CNMI.

Meantime, The Northern Marianas has prepared its initial billing statement, amounting to $200,000, for assisting the first two boatloads of undocumented aliens that arrived on Tinian.

But the island government has estimated a total of $599,000 in expenditures compiled from the records and documents of all government agencies involved in the operations, but it is currently trying to finalize these papers before the Commonwealth asks for reimbursement from Washington.

It is not known when Washington will pay back the CNMI, but Tenorio expressed relief that the Clinton Administration has pledged about $1.9 million to meet its obligations to Guam and the Commonwealth in connection with the immigration crisis.

"That's a very clear indication that the administration will make good their promise," the governor said.

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

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