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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Sept, 21, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---A ship mechanic hinted yesterday that he had agreed to cooperate with government prosecutors of the alien smuggling case in hopes of being rewarded with asylum in the United States.

Li Ming was charged and later pled guilty to alien smuggling. The plea agreement requires him to become a government's witness at the trial of six other men charged with the same crime.

"I pled guilty as a crew member," Li said during cross examination by defense attorney Eric Smith.

When Smith asked if he knew the nature of the charges with which he was charged, Li replied, "No," reiterating that he "pled guilty as a crew member."

Li, who is the fifth witness to testify at the alien smuggling trial, is scheduled to be sentenced on October 14.

According to Li, he knows he is set to appear in court on that date, but was not aware that it was for sentencing proceedings.

When asked if he expected to be sent to the U.S. after serving his jail term, Li replied, "Of course, everybody is the same."

He said he had volunteered to work as a crewmember of the fishing vessel that carried 51 undocumented aliens, seeing it as a chance to reach Guam.

Li said that during an earlier investigation he told immigration and FBI agents that he wanted to go to the U.S. and seek asylum.

"I was told that the chance was very little. They told me that I would be sent back to China," Li said through a translator.

Facing jury trial at the US District Court are Xue Jian Hui, He, Xi Di, Shi Guo Rui, Gao Liang, Shi Peng, He Xiu Jin, who are referred to by the prosecutor as "enforcers."

They were charged with conspiracy to smuggle aliens, alien smuggling for profit and alien smuggling at a place other than a designated port.

Smith told the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Baka, to refrain from using the word "enforcer" because "we don't have a definition for that term."

Baka said "enforcer" was a term used by the crewmen during earlier investigations.

Li said "enforcers" are those "who can freely walk around the boat."

Through folders containing photographs, Li pointed to those "who can freely walk around the boat."

However, he said, he did not know any of the passengers before boarding the ship.

The trial continues today.



By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Sept. 21, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---The use of Tinian as a temporary holding area for illegal Chinese immigrants caught attempting to enter Guam is not an attempt to deny asylum to those eligible, according a federal official.

"That was not at all an effort to prevent people from seeking asylum," said Bo Cooper, general counsel of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

He said INS deployed asylum officers to Tinian to screen the more than 600 illegal aliens who were sent to temporary shelters on the island after the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted their boats near Guam.

CNMI leaders earlier have said diverting these undocumented aliens to the island has been convenient for the federal government because Commonwealth laws forbid granting of asylum.

"Quite the contrary," Cooper said during last week's teleconference with local reporters. "The United States has been vigilant in all these interdiction processes to perform asylum screening of all those who wished to seek asylum."

It was not known how many of the undocumented aliens who stayed on Tinian were eventually granted asylum, but the bulk of these people were deported to China after two months.

According to Cooper, the lack of an asylum program under CNMI's immigration laws is one of several reasons the Clinton Administration has pushed for extension of the Immigration and Nationality Act to the Commonwealth.

"Indeed, it's the absence of a viable asylum application process in the CNMI that partly supports our view that immigration laws of the United States must apply," he said.

INS has come under fire in recent months over its handling of the immigration crisis on Guam, which has overwhelmed the island's limited resources and prompted local officials to propose changes in the immigration system there.

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