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By Ulysses Torres Sabuco

CNMI, Saipan (Marianas Variety, Oct. 22) – The recent influx of Chinese nationals into the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas is a "big issue" for border security, the CNMI Attorney General’s Office said yesterday.

Early this month, the People’s Republic of China granted the CNMI’s application for an Approved Destination Status or ADS. The government spent three years in the process.

Acting Attorney General Clyde Lemons Jr. told Cabinet members yesterday that border security and local immigration are concerns that the agency, particularly the Division of Immigration, are now working on with local and federal authorities.

The AGO, Lemons added, has asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to set up a security monitoring system.

Federal homeland security experts will be arriving to install a "Joint Regional Information System," said Jerry Crisostomo, the Governor’s special assistant for homeland security.

The system will start CNMI-U.S. information-sharing on individuals entering the Commonwealth, particularly those on the federal authorities’ watchlist. Lemons labeled as a "big project" the efforts the agency is undertaking to address security and immigration issues.

"The next big project now that the Approved Destination Status (has been granted by China) is boarder security and the immigration system. (That) is really the big issue," Lemons said.

The granting of ADS was scheduled for early this year, but China reportedly halted it after increased terrorism threats prompted the federal government to restrict the entry of foreigners, including Chinese nationals to the United States mainland.

The arrival of federal security experts is part of the agreement the CNMI entered into with the federal government, Crisostomo told Variety.

As a result of the agreement, the federal government will provide funds and a facility to implement security-related programs in the Commonwealth.

Despite being a U.S. territory, the CNMI controls its own labor and immigration, as provided in its Covenant with the U.S. But Crisostomo said the CNMI is ready to address any potential security issues that may result when Chinese tourists flood the islands.

The CNMI government is expected to sign the memorandum of understanding to formalize the ADS in late November.

"We have been prepared, as we have the control of our immigration and control of people in our jurisdiction," Crisostomo said. "We got people from the (DHS) to assist us in the installation of an information-sharing system."

Crisostomo said the new system will hook up the CNMI to the U.S. authorities’ security system to identify people on their immigration watchlist.

"It will give us the ability to check (unwanted nationals)," Crisostomo said.

Two years ago, the CNMI, along with Guam, was labeled a "high risk security area" because of the degree of criminal activities involving "illegal drugs, money laundering, gambling, prostitution and a growing alien population."

A report prepared by R.G. Meissner, regional security specialist of the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, predicted that the lawlessness will "seriously jeopardize the national security of the United States," as it will threaten "local federal and public interests in the Marianas."

The risk assessment report was submitted upon the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Districts of Guam and the CNMI.

October 22, 2004

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