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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 31) - Local officials on Tuesday admitted that the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands lacks the ability to protect its own borders, particularly in preventing foreigners from illegally exiting the commonwealth and sneaking into Guam which, unlike the Northern Marianas, is under federal immigration jurisdiction.

The governor’s special assistant for homeland security, Jerry Crisostimo, and Public Safety Commissioner Santiago Tudela, in separate interviews, said the establishment of a local border patrol system has long been in the planning stage.

Crisostimo said this issue has been raised with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"As much as we’d like the CNMI to have these capabilities of protecting our borders, we don’t have the resources to make it functional... Everything has jurisdictional and financial issues and this needs a higher level of discussion," Crisostimo told Variety.

The CNMI relies on the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor and patrol its borders.

"There is an ongoing investigation into the matter, and not much information is available at this time," said Lt. Greg Schultz, officer-in-charge of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment on Saipan.

He said tight border security is a normal procedure, adding that the Coast Guard’s vessel, Galveston Island, continues to patrol not only Guam’s border but the CNMI’s as well.

Schultz encouraged the public to report to authorities any information about suspected illegal immigrants and other illegal activities.

Crisostimo said border protection has always been part of homeland security discussions among local and federal agencies.

"I’m hopeful that because of our location and unique situation, we may be able to get the cooperation of the federal government to provide the CNMI technical and financial assistance to meet these challenges. The CNMI alone cannot address this. They have the resources, we don’t... But the local government must also show that it has the initiative," he said.

Tudela said the CNMI is "not ready for that yet," referring to a local border protection system.

"Maybe in the future… The Coast Guard right now is patrolling the borders," he added.

At least five suspected illegal aliens from the CNMI were caught on Guam last week, and at least five more are being pursued by U.S. Immigration.

Guam and federal authorities found a 21-foot motorboat stranded on the beach near Ritidian Point on Thursday.

Five suspected illegal immigrants were caught, but at least five more are being pursued, as authorities discovered 10 life jackets discarded near the motorboat.

Since early this year, over 2,000 nonresident workers in the CNMI have been displaced by garment factory closures and workforce reductions.

Attorney General Pamela Brown, Press Secretary Pete Callaghan and other local officials could not say whether CNMI authorities have already identified the illegal immigrants caught on Guam last Thursday, saying that the matter remains under investigation.Customs Director Jay Santos said he has requested the creation of a marine patrol unit to protect the CNMI’s borders, particularly Rota.

This, he said, is not only to detect the movements of illegal immigrants, but also of illegal drugs and ammunition.

"Once a marine patrol unit is (established), we can take better care of our borders," Santos said.

The Babauta administration earlier said that Guam authorities confirmed that the immigrants caught in the territory came from the CNMI, and that the CNMI Division of Immigration under the Attorney General’s Office, had been contacted by U.S. Immigration last Friday.

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