PANEL HEARS PLEA TO ‘FEDERALIZE’ CNMI IMMIGRATION SYSTEM

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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb 12) – A few minutes after Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez told the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Feb. 8 that the CNMI had an effective immigration program and gave high priority to the prosecution of human and sex trafficking cases, 23-year-old Kayleen D. Entena — a victim of human trafficking, rape and forced prostitution on Saipan —appealed for a change in the way the CNMI government handles its immigration system.

"Please help change the way the government functions here in the CNMI," Entena told members of the committee chaired by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and one of the co-authors of the bill to federalize CNMI immigration law which was passed by the U.S. Senate in Feb. 2000. "If there’s no change or people are not held responsible for their actions, then it will continue to happen to innocent victims. I hope you will hear my wish," said Entena, who was recruited as a waitress but was forced to go into prostitution until her escape from her employers.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hi. and another co-author of the federalization bill, commended Entena for having the courage to testify before the committee and share her experience.

Another witness, former Ambassador Franklin Haydn Williams, also urged the extension of federal immigration law to the islands.

Williams was the U.S. president’s personal representative to the negotiations with the local panel that led to the drafting of the Covenant that made the islands part of the U.S.

It was Williams who named the document "the Covenant."

In his testimony, he said the federalization of CNMI immigration law is long overdue, and will result in a new, more stable and sustainable economic foundation for the commonwealth’s future.

He said local control of immigration was intended only as a transitional responsibility for the islands, which, he added, later blocked any federal action on minimum wage and immigration with the help of hired Washington, D.C. lobbyists, referring to now disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"The subsequent story of the serious social, economic and environmental impact of the CNMI’s labor and immigration policies over the past 30 years on the life in the CNMI, the consequences of encouraging a population growth of some 500 percent, and turning the indigenous citizens of the commonwealth into a small minority has been well documented," Williams said.

He added that the CNMI does not have the institutional capacity to adequately screen persons entering the commonwealth.

"Border control is an inherently sovereign function and in the present threatening world security environment and with the reach of global crime syndicates, the responsibility for protecting the nation’s borders in the CNMI should be in the hands of the federal government."

The hearing on Thursday was like previous congressional hearings on CNMI labor and immigration policies.

CNMI officials defended the status quo while ordinary citizens and advocates recounted the ordeal of labor victims.

Entena, who was close to tears while narrating her ordeal, was recruited in the Philippines to work as a waitress on Saipan for $400 a month in Sept. 2005. She worked for Red Heart Massage and Mayi Club.

A few hours after her early morning arrival on Saipan, Entena’s female employer she called "Mamasang" ordered her to massage a man who then raped her. She said four other men raped her on her first day on Saipan.

This went on for almost 10 days not only for Entena but for another woman from the Philippines until their escape with the help of friends.

"I want the CNMI government and immigration officials to revise or make their requirements stricter especially for entering Saipan, Tinian and Rota. I am hoping that this kind of illegal system will stop — the way it happened to me, the way I was treated. I do not want this to happen to anyone," she told the Senate committee which has oversight over the CNMI and other insular areas.

Karidat Social Services social worker Lauri B. Ogumoro, in her testimony, said that while she was in Washington, D.C. preparing for the hearing, she received information from Saipan that another victim of human trafficking had been brought to the women’s shelter, Guma Esperansa.

"I’ve been told by the U.S. Department of Justice that they consider the CNMI a hot spot for human trafficking because of our close proximity to Asia and because we have our own immigration system. The system itself needs to be fixed," Ogumoro said when asked by a member of the Senate panel about the prevalence of forced prostitution and human trafficking in the CNMI.

Ogumoro said in 2006, there were at least 36 victims of human trafficking in the CNMI; zero on neighboring Guam; three in American Samoa; and two in Hawaii.

"The abuses described above are not representative of indigenous values nor of Catholic social justice. If we do not speak out to correct the wrongs in our islands, we will lose who we are as Chamorros, Carolinians or Americans," she said in her testimony.

Ogumoro cited various cases of human trafficking, forced prostitution, domestic violence, and minors forced to dance in strip clubs.

Sister Mary Stella Mangona of Good Shepherd said the "guest worker" immigration program of the CNMI results in women and children falling prey to labor abuses and scams.

"I want to emphasize that my concerns pertain to the system as a whole, not to any particular department," she said.

Bingaman, shortly before adjourning the two-hour committee hearing, said they have a lot of good suggestions, ideas and information that the panel can take as he hopes to "move ahead" with legislation that will help the CNMI with its immigration problems.

 

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