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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (August 16, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio has placed local authorities on alert following a request by the federal government for the Northern Marianas to host a new group of suspected illegal Chinese immigrants.

He has already mobilized key government agencies in anticipation of the arrival on Tinian of a boat carrying some 150 undocumented aliens from mainland China sighted last week by the U.S. Coast Guard near Guam and CNMI territorial waters.

Dozens of local police officers and immigration agents have been "in position" on the island municipality since Friday to await their arrival, which was expected either late last night or early this morning.

According to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, he has instructed his staff to provide assistance once the suspected illegal immigrants reach shore.

From San Jose Harbor, the illegal immigrants are expected to be hustled to the nearby Hofschneider's warehouse for temporary shelter before their immediate repatriation, another official said.

This would be the fifth boatload of undocumented aliens that has been diverted to the CNMI since April 17, when the island government first agreed to play host in efforts to help Guam deal with its worsening immigration crisis.

It also comes nearly two months after the last group of close to 500 illegal immigrants held on Tinian had been sent home by CNMI and federal authorities.

In an interview Friday, Tenorio disclosed that several officials from the White House, including Ferdinand Aranza, Acting Director of the Office of Insular Affairs, had called him up as early as last Thursday to inform the island government of the "possibility of another boat heading to Tinian."

Local authorities have since been in constant touch with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to prepare for the boat's arrival, such as installation of makeshift shelters to house the people.

"Our agencies are getting together and working on all necessary arrangements, and we are working closely with INS people," the Governor said.

Asked whether the federal government would set up "tent cities" anew on the island, the Governor said he believes so. "If the boat arrives on Tinian, we have to find them shelter," he said.

Likewise, the local chief executive explained Washington has assured CNMI of reimbursement of all the costs that will be incurred from hosting this latest group of illegal immigrants.

So far, the Tenorio administration has submitted charges totaling more than $500,000, which represents expenditures for the previous two-month operation, including such items as overtime pay for police officers, meals for the Chinese and rental of buses.

"I have confidence that the reimbursement is forthcoming," Tenorio said. "We have already submitted the partial billing and the (Department of Finance) might have submitted all the billings by this time."

The Departments of Labor and Immigration, Public Safety, Public Works as well as Public Health and the Public School System have included their unpaid charges in the report.

The federal government promised to reimburse the CNMI after it made Tinian the holding camp for the undocumented aliens, who were believed to be victims of a human smuggling syndicate operating in China, primarily in Fujian province.

At least two dozen suspected ringleaders caught aboard their boats have been charged in federal court and one has pleaded guilty to a felony offense.

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

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