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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 29) – The Covenant Section 902 talks ended yesterday with President Bush’s special representative announcing a grant of US$75,750 to fund a comprehensive economic study of the Northern Marianas.

In a press release, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said his talks with U.S. Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs David Cohen resulted in an "agreement on five core principles that should guide federal policy in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)."

Cohen at the same time said his office will continue drafting the CNMI immigration federalization measure requested by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

According to the Fitial administration, the following are the five core principles: national security and homeland security issues must be properly addressed; any major change in federal policy should "minimize damage to the CNMI economy and maximize the potential for future economic growth"; the federal government and the CNMI government must ensure that foreign workers are adequately protected and not vulnerable to abuse; the federal government should carefully evaluate the impact of any major policy change, although the evaluation should occur expeditiously; and the people of the CNMI should fully participate in the discussion of any major federal policy change regarding labor and immigration.

During the two-day talks, Fitial said he was not opposed to federal border control but wants an assurance that the CNMI could keep its "tools" to remain self-sufficient — local control over its labor and immigration systems.

According to the Fitial administration, Cohen acknowledged the CNMI’s need for continued access to "critical customers’ such as tourists, students, retirees, investors and medical patients.

Cohen said Interior will provide the CNMI with a US$75,750 grant to prepare a comprehensive assessment of the local economy.

"The timing of this study will not slow down the schedule for Interior to prepare draft legislation for the Senate, or the Senate’s timetable for introducing a bill," Cohen was quoted as saying in the statement released by the administration.

Cohen earlier said that federalization is still not a certainty.

"The timing of any legislation is uncertain at this point," Cohen told Variety in an interview before the 902 talks. "I can’t predict what will happen. Right now, we’re engaging in a process."


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