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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (August 14, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---Lawyer Bruce Jorgensen has hinted that he may institute court action to argue the applicability of the United States' asylum system in the CNMI.

Jorgensen dropped the hint following the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s refusal to accept the applications for asylum submitted by Chinese citizens in the CNMI.

Jorgensen, who offered to facilitate such applications, said he was told by an INS representative on Saipan, Oscar Martinez, that "no other INS office will accept" the applications.

Martinez refused to comment further.

The Tribune also contacted the INS regional office in Guam, but was told that no official there was available to comment.

"I'm perplexed that Mr. Martinez refused to accept these forms which were printed and distributed by the very same office where he works," Jorgensen said in an interview Wednesday. "This might end up in litigation."

Jorgensen said that during the past weeks, "several hundred" people from China now residing in the CNMI "have communicated their intent to seek refugee status under United States laws and United Nations human rights obligations applicable within the U.S. and the CNMI."

He said those who have submitted their applications included a Christian priest, a former Beijing news reporter, political dissidents belonging to the Falun Gong movement, and members of the China Democracy Party.

"Some people keep shouting that U.S. immigration law doesn't apply here," Jorgensen said. "We're not talking about immigration law, but human rights. Chinese citizens working in the CNMI are, after all, entitled to the same human rights as the rest of us."

The issue about the applicability of the asylum system in the CNMI is a topic of continuing debate.

During a hearing last year in Washington D.C., one of the issues raised by the Congressional Commission on Immigration Reform was the unavailability of asylum in the CNMI.

Upon the commission's recommendation, Rep. Melvyn Faisao proposed last year the establishment of a mechanism that would provide for an asylum system.

The proposal has since been "swept under the rug."

Local officials said asylum cannot be granted in the CNMI, as it controls its own immigration.

A former administration official, on the other hand, said the local government could not establish an asylum system because granting political asylum is a foreign affairs function that belongs to the federal government.

Jorgensen, however, said the CNMI, being U.S. soil, cannot stop what the U.S. government has been practicing for decades.

"In the past, the U.S. government granted refugee status to the Asian boat people, and political asylum to the Tamil rebels [who were facing persecution in Sri Lanka]," Jorgensen said.

Jorgensen said he suspected that some of the 537 Chinese boat people held on Tinian were actually sent by local and federal authorities to the U.S. mainland for asylum processing.

The U.S. Attorney's Office, however, said only 89 of those screened were sent to the mainland for potential asylum processing under United Nations guidelines.

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

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