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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (February 19, 2001 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---The Northern Marianas Division of Immigration is planning to conduct inspections at various business establishments and even private residences. It is trying to apprehend employers suspected of harboring undocumented and overstaying alien workers.

Acting Department of Labor and Immigration Secretary Tony Sablan said the measure is designed to rid the Northern Marianas of illegal aliens. These are estimated to still number several hundreds despite the government’s amnesty program.

"We are going to look at businesses and houses to determine if they are harboring undocumented or overstaying aliens," Sablan said.

The amnesty program was launched in January 1999. Back then an estimated, 3,000 illegal aliens of various nationalities were said to be residing and working in the Northern Marianas, mostly on Saipan.

Of the figure, about 2,992 overstaying aliens had registered throughout the program’s implementing period, which ran from January to June of 1999.

It was agreed under the program that illegal aliens would have three months to look for employment. If they failed, they would be sent home.

But according to Sablan, a number of amnesty seekers who failed to find legal employment did not report to the department and instead opted to remain in hiding.

Authorities believe some employers continue to hire illegal aliens in an attempt to save on overhead costs and other fees required of them to legally hire a non-resident worker.

But they said this practice deprives the commonwealth of taxes and makes the working illegal aliens susceptible to abuse.

Under the Non-resident Workers’ Act of 1983, it is a violation to harbor an illegal alien.

Sablan advised illegal aliens to turn themselves in to immigration authorities and avail of the voluntary departure program instead of being deported.

He explained that a deported illegal alien is now forever banned in the Northern Marianas.

However, if they surrender to authorities and avail of the voluntary departure program, they can still come back in the future.

"They should not wait before it’s too late," he said.

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce and the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association cautioned on the consequences of hiring overstaying non-resident workers, in a show of support for the government’s campaign.

Chamber President Anthony Pellegrino, however, said the Department of Labor and Immigration should follow applicable laws when it comes to inspecting businesses and homes.

"It’s necessary to find those illegal workers, but it has to be done in accordance with the law. Even illegal aliens have rights," Pellegrino said.

Pellegrino also said that while the department's plan is commendable, it should be done in a way that will not disrupt the operations of businesses.

"It has to be done correctly. As an employer myself, I am not going to stop my operations while they are doing their inspection. They are free to walk around and observe and ask, but not stop the entire operations," Pellegrino added.

Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association Executive Director Richard Pierce echoed Pellengrino’s concern. He expressed hopes the searches will not result in disruption of services and therefore in lost revenues for businesses.

Pierce said the department should have "reasonable suspicion" that an employer is hiring an illegal non-resident worker before it can go inside businesses or homes.

Pierce said: "It’s unreasonable to expect that all businesses should be subject to a totally random selection process in administering searches in workplaces for non-residents that may be overstaying. I believe it’s reasonable to expect that the DOLI administrators should, at a minimum, have reason to believe that such activity is occurring.

"Employers are not allowed to hire illegal alien workers and DOLI is making sure of that. That’s why we don’t have problems with DOLI’s plan. In fact, we welcome them. But again they should follow the law in doing that."

Both the Chamber of Commerce and Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association have codes of conduct which prohibit employers employing overstaying or illegal non-resident workers.

"Any member who will violate the code will be dealt with accordingly," said Pellegrino.

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